ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Twenty-Three)

Chip Haynes

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE- Miles away and years ago.

Miles to the west, in the next state, Ray Meadows was sitting at some one else's computer. Steve Vaan's computer. Maybe, at this point, we should say it was Steve's former computer. Or The Computer Formerly Known As Steve's. Whatever. Ray was there and Steve's computer was there. He had managed, earlier in the evening, to cobble together a dinner from what he had found in the kitchen. Another sandwich, some soup and the rest of the vegetables from the noon salad all went into a decent meal for the evening. Perfect for a summer night, which it was. Ray also settled on opening up all the windows, letting the night air in on the breeze. Very nice. The crickets- minus Buddy Holly, of course- provided the background music for an evening of hacking and downloading on the outskirts of a small town.
With his wife on the way, and his own departure from this apartment imminent, Ray wanted to pull up some of Steve's files and send them along to his own computer for later. You just never know what you're going to need. Better get it now. Besides, he had to do something to keep him off of those legs. He'd need them in the best possible shape for the drive back later that night. May as well sit and read until then. Dinner done and the dishes cleaned, Ray stood long enough to hobble around the apartment and pick up what few things of their own they had spread around the even fewer rooms they had to spread things in. The front room, the back room and a kitchen between the two. Add in a small bathroom and that was it. Easy enough to pick everything up. By the time the sun had set in Lyndon, Illinois (just a few minutes after it had set in Greenwood, Indiana), Ray Meadows was packed and ready. The bags were by the door, ready to go, just as soon as he heard Barbara pull the car up in that driveway. Until then, may as well surf.
Logged onto the Internet, Ray typed in the address by memory. He knew it was there. What he didn't know was where it was when it was there. The Arthur Crutchfield web site was no longer on the web. As before, when he typed in that address, the computer found it on the hard drive. With that part of the machinery stuffed under the desk, Ray never noticed. The file came up- the web site opened. Even if it was no longer a site on the web. For once- and quite possibly the last time- what he didn't know didn't hurt him. Ray wanted to go back and continue studying Arthur Crutchfield's history. He needed to know what happened at the war's end, and thereafter. Ray knew the basics: That Arthur had found some sort of work after the war. But he also knew that somewhere along the line, Arthur's attempted expose' of climbers got him in tremendous trouble. He was held against his will in a mental institution with no one admitting to believe his claim that there was something in the trees. The more he protested, the worse it would look for poor Arthur. Had anybody been there to help him? Was there anyone left to help Ray?
On the screen in front of him, a familiar menu scrolled down. Where to next in Net Land? He had read four, but not the first four, entries posted in front of him. For some unfathomable reason, the information had not been arranged in historic chronological order. Ray had no idea why. It made no sense to him, but he was only the reader. He didn't have to write the stuff. He looked over his options. Arthur's role in the war and life in London? Read it. First sightings and identifying? Read it. was that the last thing he had seen? What would be next? Back to number three? "A.S.C., publications and hospitalization"? He couldn't remember reading that one. Ray knew some of what happened to Arthur Crutchfield after the war, but not the details. That must be this file. And this must be next in order. What else was there? A.S.C., present day? Well, that certainly wasn't it, now was it? So it had to be number three. Time to pick and click. It was just after nine o'clock. Ray was sure he had time to do a little reading. He just had no idea how much time.
There are times on this earth when the same thing seems to be happening everywhere at the same time. Outside the apartment windows in Lyndon, Illinois, Ray Meadows could hear the din of countless crickets, chirping into the night. To the east of this quiet scene, crickets chirped away along side the Interstate, where a far less tranquil scene was unfolding. The initial gathering of emergency and medical personnel found a burning car alongside the Interstate without too much trouble. It was, after all, the only burning car for a great many miles. Tough to miss. What was easy to miss, and they did, was the second car involved in the accident: Barbara Meadows' sedan. A quarter mile away, in the darkness on the opposite side of the road, she lay unmoving in a crumpled hulk of steel as the stream of water gently trickled by. She was very lucky she didn't drown. Unconscious, she was still very lucky to have survived the horrendous collision. To have survived that, only to drown in a puddle of water would have been most undignified. So far, her luck was holding. But for how much longer?
As it turned out, a simple stupid question from an eastbound motorist who had stopped for a better look saved her life. The man had pulled over across the highway from the burning Lincoln and was standing with the State Troopers.
"Anybody get out of that one alive?"
"Not that we've seen. You see it happen?"
"No, just got here. What about the other one?"
"What other one?"
"The one upside down on this side of the road. About two hundred yards down there in the ditch?"
"Where??"
The troopers strode with flashlights and true purpose down the side of the road. You couldn't have caught them if you had ran. Their hand held beams picked out the remains of the Meadows' sedan: Dark, silent and crushed in the ditch. Peering in from the front and back- the only way they could see in what was left of the car, one of the men did (finally) see Barbara. From there, things moved fast in the middle nowhere late at night west of Croydon, Indiana. Maybe even faster than that train far to the northeast that was carrying Steve Vaan to the edge of America.
The crickets were chirping even this far north. But not when the train came by. It was fast and loud and not at all pleasant to be around as it roared through the countryside. Each and every cricket alongside that track hunkered down and hung on for all it was worth as the locomotives and cars sped by. No time to be chirping. Just hold on for dear life. Much like Barbara Meadows. Inside that speeding train, Steve was working his plan. Plan B? Plan C? Or was he further down the alphabet now? He had forgotten, and it didn't really matter. He had things to do before he fled the country. Some things were directly related to his travels, other things were meant to throw the bloodhounds off the scent. That's the thing he was working on now.
Mister Jim Thruxton had been a train porter all of his life. Except for maybe the first fourteen years or so, when he spent his young days with his father, a porter before him. He knew trains. He'd seen them all. And he knew people. He had seen all of them as well. He could identify both in a heartbeat and was usually right. Tonight would be no exception. Before him was one Steve Vaan, although Mister Jim did not know the man's name. And knew better than to ask. There was a certain anonymity in travel. Never ask a traveler their name. Let them tell you. Besides, he knew all he needed to know by just observing. This man seated in front of him was wearing absolutely new clothes. Clothes the likes of which he had not worn before. This man was used to better clothes. His speech told that truth: Not a worker. Maybe not rich, but well off. Certainly more well off than Jim Thruxton. And now this well-off man, a man so obviously on the run, wanted something. This run to New York and back might not be so dull after all. Neither man gave a thought to the scenery passing in the night, or the silent crickets clinging for life alongside the track as the train roared on. The game, as Doyle so eloquently put it, was most definitely afoot.
This gentleman in new clothes had a simple request: Would Mister Jim be so kind as to send a telegram to one Mister Mark Stewart upon the trains' return to Chicago the following day? It would be made considerably worth his while to do so, and the contents of the telegram would be no great secret. It was just that the gentleman's credit card had disappeared and needed to be cancelled. Another could be issued at a later date. No great intrigue. An easy request. Jim Thruxton accepted the assignment willingly. Nothing truly illegal, and it paid well. He could buy the wife a nice dinner out upon his return. There were, of course, questions to not be asked: Why wait until the train (with Jim on it) went all the way back to Chicago? Why not notify the man from New York? Easy enough to answer: It was buying this man time and distance. The initials at the bottom of the message were "S.V.". The entire contents of the message read like the telegram it was:

CREDIT CARD GONE. NEED ANOTHER. DETAILS LATER. S.V.

Direct, to the point, and yet- it had to be a ruse. Why else would this man want the message sent from a town he wasn't in two days after he had left it? And at least one full day after Jim Thruxton would last see him? He's running hard and dodging some one. The law? Jim thought it unlikely. Only a fool tries to run from the law on a train. You're just too trapped right from the start. And this guy's no fool. Tips well, too.
On a bright computer screen in a second floor apartment in Lyndon, Illinois, Ray Meadows was looking at the title page of another large file on the subject of one Arthur Smith Crutchfield of London, England. Ray wasn't sure he was ready to be drawn back into the world of mid-1940's England just yet. But there was little else to do until Barbara got there. The bags were packed and by the door. He was ready to go any time. May as well read a bit of this until she shows up. Ray began reading:

In the months following the liberation of Paris, there was a slow but steady shift in the tone of the war effort in London. The devastating bombs and rockets fell with a mounting infrequency as the German rocket bases and airfields were overrun by the Allies. With more of Western Europe in the hands of the English, American and Canadian forces, fewer soldiers were returning to Great Britain for leave or hospitalization. That steady reduction in the flow of both bombs and wounded into London made for a steady increase in Arthur Crutchfield's free time. The Blackfriars Medical Unit had little to do, and in fact there had been talk of it shutting down entirely after the first of the year. Charring Cross Hospital was still taking in the wounded soldiers, but more and more beds were occupied by civilians who might actually just be sick instead. This left Arthur with little to do regarding the procurement of medical supplies for Blackfriars, or the urgent delivery of messages within Charring Cross. This resulting free time proved to be his undoing.
Arthur's third position- his part-time part-time job, as it were- was over at the U.S.O. near Victoria Station. After his initial inquiry there during late August for chocolate and cola, he found himself drawn back at least once a week to help out and watch the continuing flow of people. Yes, the chocolates and sodas were still a draw, but even there, the flow was ebbing. With the liberation of Paris, it wasn't long before that became the preferred destination for soldiers on leave. Young Arthur Crutchfield had no idea why. What could compare with his London? Hadn't Paris suffered under the German occupation? What could they have that London didn't? As I said, he was young and had no idea.
Stopping by Blackfriars no more than twice a day (morning and late afternoon), and Charring Cross at midday (for messages and lunch), Arthur was starting to enjoy a more relaxed schedule. And starting to spend more time in Hyde Park. Then again, so were a great many other Londoners. The park had yet to return to it's pre-war splendor, but daily attendance was indeed up. Boats were out on the lake again and picnics sprouted from the ground on the now rare warm afternoon. With Autumn at hand, the weather could turn nasty in the course of an afternoon. The was no holding back the approaching winter. Arthur continued to watch for what he had seen on that warm August night. There was something in the trees. Still.
From his small flat high over-looking the park, another person also continued the search for climbers. Capt. Jack- South African Captain Charles Hanson Jack- had been intrigued by what this young man said he saw in the trees in the middle of London: A climbing creature. Nocturnal, no doubt. Armed with a pair of high-powered Naval binoculars, Capt. Jack lived as a few would end up: A creature of the night himself. Sleeping into the early afternoon allowed him to stay awake until near dawn. The night was his. Perched at his window above the park, Capt. Jack watched everything. He could cover a broad area of the center of the expanse- including that tree in the center where Arthur himself had seen… something. No one wanted to say what they thought it might be, or even if he had perhaps only imagined it. Capt. Jack's job was to answer that question: What, if anything, was living in the trees in Hyde Park?
Night after night, he sat there. Watching for any movement in the trees and ignoring the movement on the ground. Crime was still all but non-existent in London during the war, while the unbridled passions of the English in parks late at night made for rather limited viewing, to say the least. Not much going on, Captain. But still he watched. And made notes. He did see movement in the trees. Not every night but at least three, sometimes four times within a week. Things too big to be the indigenous fauna. These weren't squirrels. Arthur was right. It looked like children climbing around in the trees. And many a night, that looked like Arthur there in the park on the ground. He, too, was there to watch for the climbers. And he, too, was making notes on the subject.
By early October, when the nights were turning decidedly cool, both Arthur and Captain Jack had accumulated two impressive books of notes on the subject of the climbers in Hyde Park. Arthur, of course, had no idea that Capt. Jack was on the case. Capt. Jack knew Arthur was there, but no idea of how much he had seen or what he really knew. The Captain would pay an occasional visit to the Crutchfield's new quarters overlooking Trafalgar. His visits with Peter Crutchfield- Arthur's father- always seemed to appear social. But of course, everyone knew better. A war's a war and there was still one going on. The Captain's visits were always the same: After an initial family gathering and greeting, either Peter or Capt. Jack would find the excuse of something that the other would have to see and they'd both go out together. Where did they go- and what did they say? Arthur wasn't the curious type when it came to people. Animals in the park, yes. But people, no. He might look out the window to see if they went down the sidewalk, but he never followed or tried to listen in. It was none of his business, so why bother?
What they did was fill each other in on the situation in Hyde Park. Captain Jack was convinced that there was something in the trees. He was also convinced that young Arthur knew a great deal more than he said. But it wasn't a matter of national security or vital to the war effort, so there wasn't a whole lot to be done about it. As a matter of fact, Captain Jack had yet to make any sort of mention of this situation to his superiors. As far as they knew, he was quartered in London out of convenience. It was, after all, the hub of the Empire. It wasn't until Capt. Jack decided to come down from his lofty perch and spend his nights within the park- as Arthur did- that both he and Arthur had to confront each other and compare their notes. It could have gone much worse.
It was something that happened once in a blue moon. Literally. It was nearly the end of October and the moon had risen full for the second time within that month: The blue moon. The blue moon was there, and somewhere, in some hidden, blacked-out London night club, the song was been played. In spite of the cold night, both Arthur Crutchfield and Captain Jack knew it would be a prime night to watch for climbers. The moon would rise later and shed less light each night after this. By the November full moon it would be entirely too cold to be out like this. One last look as winter bore down on them. Perhaps if either had known that the other was there, they might have made different arrangements.
Both knew that climber activity hit a peak around midnight to one a.m. and tapered off quickly after that. Neither of them had seen any movement in the park between three a.m. and dawn. They also realized that to see any movement at all, they would have to be comfortably in place by dark. They couldn't move after that. The climbers would see them. So it was that both picked out spots between the branching roots of large trees within the park. Both wisely elected to camp on the lee side of their trees, out of the wind. And although neither could see the other, or knew the other was there, they could both see the massive old oak in the middle of the park where Arthur had first seen the things the summer before. That tree seemed to be the center of the climbers' activity within the park. They were settled in, quiet and ready. The calm before the storm.
Sitting on blankets and covered with blankets, Arthur Crutchfield was a study in brown wool. He could have looked as much a part of the tree he was leaning against as the climbers above him in their trees. Just a face sticking out from the bark. Rather unnerving in the darkness. Comfortable, though. And warm. Captain Jack, ever the hunter, did not cocoon himself quite so thoroughly. Reclined amid the roots and leaning against the tree trunk not fifty yards from Arthur, Capt. Jack made do with just a lap blanket folded over his legs. That blanket and the cape he had worn at their first meeting in the vineyard was all the extra protection he would need for the cold night. Captain Jack was more visible to the human eye. Neither was at all sure what the climbers saw. They saw everything, of course.
The moon- full, yellow and bright- cleared the roofs of the buildings to the east of Hyde Park in the black night sky over London. Still under an official war-time blackout, the growing lunar light was a welcome relief to the drab inky blackness. A few high clouds were drifting in out of the north- harbingers of the cold weather to come within the week. Between the clouds, the stars shone cold and bright against the blackness. We can assume with some certainty that neither Arthur Crutchfield nor Captain Jack spent any time at all that night contemplating the stars above them and whether any of these visible distant suns was in fact the original home to what they were seeking here on Earth. It was only much later that Arthur would figure out this dark secret and the obvious- and more stunning one- to follow. For now, both were more concerned at hiding the visible condensation of their breath in the cold night air. No need to alarm the tree dwellers.
After five years of war, London was not a bustling city at night. Between the blackout, the rationing and the curfew, there wasn't much to see or hear after dark. No lights and few sounds. The last big military trucks could be heard leaving for their motor pool areas outside the town right around sunset. The imposed curfew halted all civilian traffic shortly after that. A few later emergency and priority machines went by before ten. After that, it was as though the town wasn't there. Precisely the impression they wanted to leave: No impression at all. From the air on a moonless night, you couldn't have found it at all. But this was not a moonless light. It was a full moon, and that had some people worried. Would the German bombers follow that moon out of the east to find the city yet again? They were getting few and far between, but you never know. This would be the perfect night for a raid. Few high clouds, a light wind and that fantastic moon, made all the brighter by the lack of competition in the darkness. Instinctively, both Arthur and the Captain were straining to hear the first distant drone of engines in the sky. Climbers, as far as they could tell, made no noise at all.
Sometime after eleven, Arthur got a glimpse of movement high up in the tree he was facing. It wasn't the big tree he had first seen them in, but that was no surprise. The climbers did vary their routine and location from night to night. It looked like tonight they would be in this one. Arthur slowly- very slowly- adjusted his position on the ground to get a better look at the tree in question off to his left. To his right, Captain Jack saw Arthur shift in the blankets. It was a give away. There had to be a reason, and there it was, up in that tree. The Captain had been watching Arthur to spot the climbers It had paid off. Now in a direct line beyond Arthur's position, Capt. Jack could see slow movement high up in a tree close to seventy five yards away. Without the steadily- brightening light of the moon, he would have never seen it. Now, there it was. Or rather, there they were.
One, two and now three small figures could be seen carefully working their way out from the main trunk to the ends of the branches. Going for what few green leaves were left, the pickings were getting quite sparse in the park. What did the climbers do in the winter? Where did they live? What did they eat? Oddly enough, both men were contemplating that very same thing as they watched the climbers eat. Captain Jack's attention was drawn, however, to something else. A noise in the distance.
From their positions low on the ground in the roots of the trees, neither of these two observers had observed the walking path running between the trees. Neither one had thought about it, since neither had bothered to use it in the daylight. Now here it was going on midnight and someone else had decided that this now moonlit path was the only way to get through Hyde Park without taking a serious fall. They were probably right. This young couple (alright, older than Arthur and younger than the Captain- does that make them middle aged?) had been at an underground party. Now it was time to try to get safely home. And don't get all worked up about this underground thing. In France, the Underground was the French resistance to the German occupation. The principal German occupation at that point being the subjugation of France. In London, the Underground was the subway. In this particular case, the “underground party” was just that: A party in the subway. That far underground, the party was safe from the Germans and London was safe from the party. But now it was time to go home, the hard way: At night through Hyde Park. As the moon lit their way down the path, they had no idea what sort of party their progress was interrupting. They would soon find out.
Watching the climbers to his left, with the path behind both himself and the tree he was seated against, Arthur didn't hear the approaching uneven footsteps of two people struggling to walk in the dark. Captain Jack, on the other hand, had been watching the climbers (and Arthur) from the far side of the path, and therefore did in fact have a ear turned directly down the path toward the oncoming entourage of two. Neither of them heard the walking couple before the climbers, all of whom suddenly got very hard to see. Stretched out long and flat against the limbs, blending ever so slightly into the branches, the three climbers became unmoving additions to the tree they were in. Arthur peered at the tree to try to find them. Capt. Jack began to turn his head ever so slowly to the left, trying to catch a glimpse of the crowd coming up the path. Sounded like a hundred lost souls all stampeding on gravel. Both of them. In truth, they were being so quiet they would never have been heard there at all in the middle of the day. Slow and careful, don't trip and don't make noise. No need to alert the air raid wardens or local officials. Just try to get home as quietly as possible. And hope the Germans don't pick tonight for a bombing raid. Wouldn't that be the icing on the cake?
Eventually, after what must have seemed like years to Captain Jack, the walking couple were directly between the Captain and Arthur. Arthur had, by this time, heard them. He was trying hard to ignore them and concentrate on the climbers. Where had they gone? Were they still there? Could he see them? Captain Jack, on the other hand, could no longer contain his unbounded disdain for the interlopers. Without considering the consequences, the good Captain let out a long, slow hissing breath of air. The resulting cloud of condensation caught the attention of the young lady on the path, who turned at the sound and the sight of the cloud, only to find a man sitting there in the park (in the dark) glaring at her. She let out a little yelp before she could stop herself. Her companion, looking off to his left toward the tree hiding Arthur from view, would have turned to see what the problem was, had Arthur himself not done it first. He knew the climbers were a lost cause when the woman made that noise. The night was over. May as well look. And he did. That sealed the evening's fate. The sight of Arthur's head bobbing around the tree from the other side caused an exclamation to slip from the gentleman's lips. With the spoken word both were gone, redoubling their efforts to be home even sooner. It sounded like a horse doing a fancy dance step down that gravel walk. Now that was truly loud. No more climbers tonight. Both remaining ground-dwelling bipeds knew that. And now each knew about the other. Or, more accurately, now Arthur saw Captain Jack watching him from his position against that other tree. What was going on here?
Arthur was on his feet and on his way toward the Captain before he could hide or run. The advantage of youth is never more apparent than on a cold night. Confronted and confessed, Captain Jack had to admit that he was there for the same reason as Arthur. And perhaps they could continue this conversation in warmer surroundings, now that the evening's hunt was off. That agreed, both gentlemen retired to the confines of Captain Jack's flat. Once the kettle was on the heat for some warming tea, the two men began their first of a great many discussions on the singular subject of climbers.
They quickly reached an agreement of reason on that first night: That it was getting entirely too cold to stay out all night on the ground in the park. It was easily settled then that they could probably see nearly as much of what little would be going on through the winter by manning the window right there in the flat. Easy enough to see even more of the park, and to watch from an angle the climbers seemed to ignore. What was above them did not matter. While they agreed to watch the park on alternate nights, or as the increasingly hostile weather permitted, the Captain also volunteered his field notes to Arthur. Arthur could stop by and copy them at his leisure for his own research. There was, as you might imagine, as reason for the Captain's generosity.
Even the Hundred Years' War did not last forever. It only seemed as though it did to those involved. Now this world war seemed destined to come to a conclusion. Perhaps not by the end of this year, but certainly by the end of the next. The Germans were been pushed back in fits and starts, but now there were more starts and fewer fits. Slow but steady. Once across the Rhine, no one expected the conflict to last much longer. It all had to do with offensive armies vs. defensive armies. Some might argue that all armies are offensive, but that is not always truly the case. Some nations' military powers have always made a name for themselves- for better or worse- as either primarily a good offensive army or a good defensive army. The English had distinguished themselves as primarily a defensive army. No doubt about it. Likewise, the Germans were a grand offensive unit. Once this war had ended, things would change. Fast.
Captain Jack knew he would return to South Africa. It was home. Resigning his commission, he would have to find gainful employment. While the opportunity to serve as a guide for big game safaris was the most obvious choice- it wasn't his. The good Captain found that he enjoyed the search far more than the actual bagging of any sort of game, large or small. Once shot, it was yours. You had to lug the bloody mess back to camp, gut it, clean it, cook it and eat it. Maybe life in London had spoiled him a bit. He preferred to just eat out and avoid all that mess and effort. But he did not mind simply observing. Less effort involved. Would there be a market for a guide for people who were content to merely observe the animals of Africa? Or did everyone on the planet want to take a shot at them? Tough questions in the early winter of 1944. Captain Charles Hanson Jack (Captain Jack, soon to be known as Mister Hanson) was trying to get a feel for what he did, and did not, want to do after the war.
Arthur Smith Crutchfield (soon to be registered in a hospital in the country as Arthur Smith) was not nearly so astute in matters concerning the future. Carpe Diem? Perhaps. More like, Carpe Carpe Diem. Seize seizing the day. Really get into it. Don't even think about tomorrow. War on, remember? Arthur hadn't given his future a passing thought. He was now sixteen years old. By the time the war ended the following year, young mister Crutchfield would be a young adult who could passably read and write and do basic mathematics but: He lacked any sort of marketable skills or talents. His education had somewhat slid by the wayside to make way for the war. Perhaps his father had intended to resume Arthur's education after the war. More than likely, he just fell through the cracks. What future he may have had as a result of his father's position with the government was about to evaporate with Arthur's published insistence that there was something out there, in the trees. Carpe Lunatium? Seize the nut? That would come later.
With his own future in mind (and certainly not with Arthur's), Captain Jack gave Arthur the first grain of an idea: Would Arthur be interested in writing a book on the subject of climbers? Arthur was most decidedly the leading expert on the subject, wasn't he? And he had kept notes on all that he had seen, had he not? Then perhaps, with the help of his good friend, Captain Jack, Arthur Crutchfield could write a book on the subject and have it ready to go to print just as soon as this annoying war thing was taken care of. Would that be something Arthur might be interested in? Unfortunately, it was. He did not readily agree at the first mention, of course. Captain Jack spent the better part of the early winter- right up to New Year's- to convince Arthur that not only should it be done, but that he was just the man to do it. With the Captain's help, of course. It would be a secret project for now. Just the two of them. Tell no one. And Arthur didn't.
Perhaps if Arthur Crutchfield had mentioned the project to his parents, the outcome might have been different. A little less involuntary hospitalization, maybe. But his time was his own and his parents were still busy with the war and all that went with it. Arthur was making a bit of real money doing cleaning and maintenance at the U.S.O. It was a good job with great benefits- for a sixteen year old. He got to meet American entertainers he had only heard about before. Great legends past through that hall during the war, and most of them met Arthur Crutchfield. He was also kept hip deep in Hershey bars and Coca-Cola- another great benefit for some one who needed to stay up late and watch the trees. The money- or most of it- got packed away for the proverbial rainy day. I'm a little vague on how Arthur Crutchfield thought that differed from a world war, but the truth is this: There really wasn't all that much to spend money on those days. So he saved it.
By the start of 1945, the war, while still running full tilt, was at least running full tilt in favor of the Allied forces most of the time. London was starting to come up to the surface, out of the subways and air raid shelters. People could be caught actually smiling for time to time. Winter couldn't last forever, and spring was on the way. In mid- January, the Blackfriars Medical Unit got the notice it had been expecting: They were to shut down by the end of February. Personnel were to be transferred to larger standing hospitals. It had come as no great shock to any of the staff. With the air raids slowing diminishing, they had become a local infirmary. Fewer war related wounds and more general health problems. Not exactly what they were there for, or equipped to handle. Time to go. Most went to the closest hospital: Charring Cross. This made for a somewhat ironic situation, as you might imagine. Blackfriars, through the efforts of The Stoat (our boy Arthur) had for years been getting the bulk of their medical supplies from Charring Cross. Minus the paperwork, of course. Now here were new employees- doctors, nurses and support staff clerks- who somehow already knew exactly what the hospital had, and pretty much where to find it. Fast learners?
Arthur no longer had Blackfriars to worry about, but continued to serve as a delivery boy at Charring Cross Hospital. There was still some volunteer work to be had there in trade for a free hot lunch. Never turn down a free lunch, whatever the price. And didn't it seem, thought the regular staff, that some of these new people did in fact know their messenger boy rather well? Just being friendly, I suppose. Trying to fit in. And why did they call Arty "Stoat"? What sort of nickname was that to give to the boy? Arthur made himself useful at Charring Cross, and kept himself well fed at lunch.
Evenings, by late winter, were spent organizing his notes, re-writing the Captain's notes for his own use, and pondering the writing of The Book. Capt. Jack was a great help in all this. It was through their discussions in the evenings, as they waited for any sight of climbers in the park at night, that the details of the book were hashed out. It was not to be a simple dry as dust documentary of sightings. Too simplistic. Through Capt. Jack's urgings, Arthur was to write the book from a more personal point of view. It would detail his involvement in the war- as one young person surviving on the home front. His thoughts and reactions to the German bombing of London and the part of the conflict that would be known as The Battle of Britain. The book would, of course, also revolve around the time spent in the park and what might still be lurking there. Since it was his time spent in the park that helped Arthur cope with the rest of the turmoil in his life, the book's title was to reflect that: In Search of Sanity. The title alone could have been his undoing, regardless of the book's content or success. It's success was guaranteed through both groundwork and good luck.
The groundwork was laid by Captain Jack, unbeknownst to Arthur Crutchfield. The Captain was, by the time spring found its way to England, paying the odd visit to publishers in that nation's capital. Would they be interested in lining up new titles for publication after the war? Of course they would, just as soon as paper was once again available. Captain Jack was having moderate success with the publishers before the war's end. It wasn't until after the war that things got out of hand. That would be the good luck part of the equation.
The success of Crutchfield's book, and his subsequent downfall, were both the results of the post-war mania for science and technology. It's true that science fiction had existed before the second world war. It's also true that before that war the genre lacked believability. Most examples of sci-fi from before the war bordered on pure fantasy, lacking any root in the reality of the day. H. P. Lovecraft being the notable, if terrifying, exception. World War Two changed all that by providing a science based reality not all that far from fantasy. Rockets had become general public knowledge during the war. Painfully so for the English. Jet airplanes were fast approaching the mainstream and the ultimate science fiction- the atomic bomb- was no longer such an extreme top secret after August 6th, 1945. In this New Modern Age following the war, the public was more than anxious to read about things even more fantastic than their currently fantastic lives. They wanted more. Always more. And Arthur Crutchfield, unfortunately, gave it to them.
If hindsight has perfect vision, it's easy for us to see what went wrong with the book. In a nutshell: Written in the first person, the book appeared to be more the log of a young man's descent to dementia in wartime than a plausible look at an implausible animal. It was entirely too personal and too completely serious. It would be impossible for Arthur Crutchfield to offer any casual or offhand response to his detractors and critics. And at the time, he could not possibly understand why he should.
Work began on the book in the summer of 1945. It was written, for the most part, in Captain Jack's apartment overlooking Hyde Park. Within a week or so for his first writings, a system of efficiency was achieved: Arthur, having slept until mid-morning, would leave his own apartment, shared with his parents near Trafalgar Square, and make his way to Charring Cross Hospital. He would make himself useful through the day running messages and delivering supplies throughout the hospital. Never one to shy from a job, "Arty" (as he was known there) would even pitch in with a bit of basic cleaning when the need arose. As the hospital's volunteer Utility Man, he was called upon to do it all from time to time. This apparently even included the occasional drive to medical suppliers for additional materials for the hospital. There is, however, no mention of when, where or how Arthur Crutchfield learned to drive. No legal driver's license has ever been issued in his name. Even to this day. Nevertheless, he was either trusted enough, or they were desperate enough, to let young Arthur drive off in a hospital van to pick up supplies when the urgent need did arise. There were no recorded accidents.
Following a short day- from about ten in the morning until tea at four- Arthur Crutchfield put in his time (purely voluntary) at Charring Cross Hospital. From there, it was a quick walk through town to the U.S.O. near Victoria Station. Having caged a hot lunch at Charring Cross, Arthur made sure he was in the U.S.O. before dinner was served at five. A walk through the kitchen on the way to the utility room usually provided him with some sort of food to be called dinner. Not always hot, but sufficient. At the U.S.O., Arthur was, in fact, paid in U.S. dollars. Yes, mainly under the table, but it was as close as he got to regular wages. He was working for the man who was working for the U.S.O. Easy enough to hire out at a good price then. For a quarter of what the hired man made, he ended up with only a quarter of the work to do. Arthur did the other seventy-five percent in a three hour span most evenings. Clean and wax the dance floor- that was the first job. Had to be done by six. While that was drying, the small dance hall was cleaned, the chairs straightened and any minor repairs needed from the previous evening’s festivities were taken care of. Even Arthur could see that a change was coming. As the war progressed, and progressed further from London, the damage and debris dropped steadily at the U.S.O. The year before, the first time he walk into that hall, it looked like a bomb had gone off in there. He was not so sure that it hadn't. A complete shambles. Have these people no manners at all? It took hours just to find the floor. Now, with the war all but moved on, all that was needed was a quick clean and wax and the occasional mend of a chair or table. No more war zone in the war zone. After the hall was opened, all that was left was a quick clean-up tour of the offices. Easy enough. By sometime after nine in the evening, Arthur Crutchfield had moved on to his next venue: Captain Jack's, overlooking Hyde Park.
For his part, even Capt. Jack wouldn't let Arthur go hungry. There was always something in the flat to go with the endless cups of hot tea. Arthur would generally start with a cup of tea and something to eat while he worked his way through another page or two of the book. Originally written in Arthur's nearly illegible long hand, this is where the Captain came in: As the book progressed, Capt. Jack would gather up the loose hand-written pages and take them to a typing service- otherwise known as the military offices to which he did occasionally report. There, Arthur's scrawl would be translated to a readable print. Corrections were made from that, and the final typewritten copy was well cared for by the Captain and kept in a locked vault in that office. The final "report" was labeled "CONFIDENTIAL". Oddly enough, to have been labeled "TOP SECRET", more people would have had to read it. And Captain Jack didn't want that. Go figure.
Each evening, usually just during the week, Arthur would work at the small table in the apartment until some time after ten. Longer in cold weather or on rainy nights. By eleven o'clock, all literary work ceased and some one, usually both of them, was watching at the window. Peering out from a dark flat high up overlooking the expanse of park in the center of London, scanning with binoculars for any movement in the trees. This surveillance would go on until sometime after two, when Arthur would pack up and head for home across town, on foot and in any sort of weather. Six hours' sleep and he started all over again the next day, fueled by strong tea, Hershey bars and Coca-Cola. Something about youth being wasted on the young. Oscar Wilde was right.
As spring approached, the weather steadily improved. The odd warm day became the norm and evenings and nights lacked the bitterness of previous months. By late March, both Arthur and Capt. Jack were anxious to be back out in the park at night. No longer content to merely observe, they wanted to be closer to the action, such as it was. They wanted, pardon the phrase, some hands-on experience. Be careful what you wish for.
Sometime during the first week of April in 1945, Captain Jack had procured two articles of clothing to aid them in their search: Non-military issue hunting capes. This distinction was important. All military equipment designed for field use had been soaked in some sort of water-proofing preserver. And you could tell. You could smell. From a great distance across a crowded room, you could tell. It didn't smell bad, exactly, it was just so… distinctive. And strong. Still is, to this day. Because of this, neither of them could expect any sort of success if they had gone out into the park with any piece of military issued gear. The climbers did seem to have a keen sense of smell. Went with that incredible hearing and flawless night vision. That was the one thing they were already very sure of: These things had heightened senses. All except for touch. Even then, in the mid-1940's they could see the flaw: Climbers could be a bit clumsy. Not often, not on a regular basis, but if they watched long enough, they would see one slip.
Usually when making the transition from hind legs (descending from the main trunk) to all fours (edging out on a limb for the tastier young leaves), that was the most common point for a climber to lose its grip and have to, at best, make a fast grab for something to hang on to. At worst, the climber would lose the limb entirely and drop down to the next one. Or the one after that. Both Arthur and Capt. Jack gave them this: They never saw one hit the ground unless they meant to. Even then, that first time was a shock.
It was in May- early May- and the weather was unseasonably warm. Not so warm, mind you, that they dispensed with those capes. But they had decided that they didn't need to wear the usual heavy coat beneath the capes that night. Almost warm, for London. The book had been going well, and Arthur found himself at a point where he could take a breather from the daily writing to spend more time in the field, observing the subject at hand. The weather was perfect for it. Just after dark both Arthur and the Captain made their way into Hyde Park to their pre-determined watch posts. By now, they both knew where to look and when to get there. Now here they were, ready for the show. Almost as if on cue, climbers started to emerge from the main trunk of the largest oak around eleven o'clock. This they expected. One, then another, a third and finally a smaller fourth had all edged away from the main body of the tree well before midnight. All four descended, also as expected, toward the bottom of the tree. That seemed to be their pattern. Perhaps the leaves tasted better down there, or maybe it was just that the limbs were larger and better able to hold their weight. For whatever the reason, they always seemed to descend. Tonight was no exception. This was to be, however, an exceptional night.
One of the larger animals stopped, along with the smallest, at their usual lower level to begin feeding. Down to all fours and out on the limbs, these two made no change in their nightly routine. The other two, one large and one only slightly smaller, continued to work their way down the main trunk. Arthur had lost sight of them as they worked their way around the trunk toward the ground. He saw them again, quite plainly, standing on the ground next to the trunk. Arthur's line of sight was perfect. Captain Jack, already positioned further away, had no clear view of the base of the tree. He had no idea what was going on over there, and Arthur wasn't about to tell him. They had both found out that rule rather early in the game: Any noise, any movement on the ground (other than by other climbers) and all that they could see disappeared for the night. Skitterish creatures, these climbers. No reason to wait around after that. As a result, both men knew: No matter what happened, neither could say anything or warn the other. Even a sudden turn of the head would send the climbers toward the trunk and invisibility. Now here were two standing on the ground, and it was all Arthur could do to keep from screaming, waving his arms and pointing at them.
Standing primarily on their hind legs, with those front legs (arms?) just touching down for balance, the two climbers were frozen in place. Smelling the air? Listening or watching? Arthur couldn't tell. Probably all of the above. Whatever they were doing, they weren't doing much of it right now. Stock still, as if statues on display in the garden. For how long? Arthur lost track of time. His eyes were burning from having to focus so long in one spot to watch them. He didn't dare do more than blink. Close your eyes for a moment and these things could be gone. He learned that lesson very early on as well. Finally, after agonizing long minutes of watching those two things not move in least, one moved just slightly. A shift of weight, a change of posture, and the larger one began to move ever so slowly away from the tree. Seconds later, the other climber followed suit. Arthur could only slowly turn his head to follow their progress across the park ground under the tree. What was going on here?
The climbers' walk was a light weight mixture of four-legged amble and up right two-legged stride. They didn't weigh much for their apparent size. These things could run fast on their hind legs if they had to, but lacked complete control doing so. Fast, though. Tonight, their speed was not critical. In combinations of two legs and four, both animals made there way across the grounds of Hyde Park to another large oak. Again, at the base of this new tree, they froze in place. There was no way Capt. Jack was going to see any of this. He had continued to watch the remaining two animals in the first tree, unaware of what had transpired on the ground. Arthur, on the other hand, had been able to follow the other two fairly well. They were now at the left hand limits of his vision. He had turned his head as far to the left as he dared without shifting his body, and now his eyes were straining to the left as well. This was it. No more movement available here. The climbers were still within the limits of his sight, but just. Standing still beneath the second tree, they waited. For what? Something to scare them up into that tree? If they didn't do something pretty soon, Arthur was sure he could manage a little help for them in that direction. No problem.
About the time Arthur had resigned himself to moving, and causing the climbers to disappear, they nearly did. He caught some movement in the new tree, above where the climbers were standing so still. He looked up to see another climber in this new tree, about halfway down from the top. When he shifted his gaze back to the ground- no climbers there. They were gone. Where? A careful examination of the lower branches revealed two bulges that could only be climbers stretched out on limbs. There weren't there a moment ago, Arthur was sure of it. This had to be the two climbers that had just run across the park. Now they're in another tree. Why?
Anthropologists work their entire lives to figure out stuff like this with animals far easier to observe. Why? Why do they do what they do? Why do they go where they go? Arthur felt he did not have a lifetime to devote to this study. He had a book begun. He had a book to finish. Captain Jack had told him it needed to be finished before the war was over. And when would that be? Another month? Two? Six? If the Captain had any idea, he wasn't saying. Things were going well for the Allied Forces, but it was still quite a distance to Berlin. Arthur focused again on the three climbers in that second tree. All three seemed content to be stretched out on limbs and eating. Nothing new in that. From his current position- with his head turned far to the left- Arthur couldn't see the first tree at all. For all he knew, the two climbers that had stayed behind were now playing badminton up there. With glow-in-the-dark birdies. This had all gotten very tiring. He had seen enough for one night. Arthur stood up and never looked back to see if the animals had all disappeared. He was sure they had. They always do. He walked toward the edge of the park, toward Captain Jack's flat. He could hear the Captain struggling to his feet and then following him through the grass and across the paths. They never took the paths. Too noisy. Not that it mattered right now. Enough was, in fact, enough.
Once safely ensconced within the upper level flat, Arthur wasted no time at all putting scrawling pen to paper. Captain Jack, fast on his heels, had news of his own and thought it to be the same. It was not. Arthur spoke as he wrote, questioning the Captain's view and what he saw, but not waiting for the answer to tell the Captain what he himself had witnessed. Captain Jack, for his part, could only wait for Arthur to stop long enough to take in a breath before he added his news to the pile: The climbers had not disappeared when Arthur stood up. Indeed, they remained visible (though unmoving) as both men stood and walked away. Arthur Crutchfield stopped writing. The climbers were watching them. This was potentially more important news that the sight of climbers on the ground. Or playing badminton. Both gentlemen pondered the situation over hot tea and the remains of the food from earlier in the evening. It was early for them- not yet one in the morning.
It was an odd sensation, to find one's self going from hunter to hunted in a heartbeat. One moment, they were the observers in all silence and stealth. The next moment? How long had the climbers been watching them? At what point had this situation changed? Neither could tell. Their night vision was nothing like the climbers'. In the darkness of a park in the middle of a city under a wartime blackout, there wasn't much they could see, really. Shapes outlined by the night sky, most of the time. Colors? Never. And only barely so by the light of a full moon. Arthur knew about the climbers' coloring after that fateful night with the flashlight. Blue and black. That he knew. Some sort of intersecting line pattern. Rather like- like something, but what? It took Arthur a moment to come up with the right animal: a giraffe. Like the patterns on a giraffe, but smaller. And blue. A shimmering blue. Odd. Arthur thought about that coloration. Was that coloring and pattern suppose to hide these animals from prying eyes? One way or another, they must be hard to see. As far as he knew, he and the Captain were the only two people in London to have seen them. Why was that? Now the questions were starting to flood through Arthur Crutchfield's mind. It seemed the more he knew about climbers, the more questions he found unanswered.
If the climbers had been watching them, why hadn't they hidden? At what point did familiarity bred less fear? And how much less fear would these things show with increased familiarity? Would he ever get close to one? Could one be fed? Arthur remembered that early encounter with a climber that most certainly had noticed the chocolate bar. It had smelled it. And the apple. It had disappeared as Arthur slept. No doubt now where that went. Maybe that was the thing: Bring food. Fruits, vegetables, chocolate. The three basic climber food groups? Did these things eat meat? There was a sobering thought. So far, he had only seen them munching contentedly on leaves. But were they in fact content with leaves? This war had made a great many people change their eating habits. Why not climbers?
It was time for a change in plans as summer approached. No more merely observing from a distance. Time to move in for a bit of close interaction. If the climbers would go for it. After making sure that the details of this evenings encounter were dutifully recorded, both Arthur and Capt. Jack decided on a new approach: They would take up positions closer to the main tree and bring food. They'd settle in early, right after dark, and remain still until sometime after eleven or so. As soon as they could see movement in the tree (or trees, now) above them, they would stand up, place food on the lower limbs that they could reach, and move off to take up their usual positions further away. From there, they would observe the climbers' reaction.
If all went well, they could begin to vary the later part of the plan: They wouldn't move off so soon, or so far. Eventually, they hoped, they could place the food in the tree and remain there, directly beneath it as the climbers descended for their prize. Animal training at it's most basic level. Even with out the bell, Pavlov would be proud. Now the question: What to bring as an offering? Fresh fruit was still scarce, and the available vegetables little better than the oak's leaves. Chocolate bars. That had to be the bait. Arthur knew he could get a virtually endless supply of the brown gold at the U.S.O. Easy enough, and plentiful. What animal could resist? Would this one?
By the end of that week, they were ready to put the plan into action. The May evenings were quite mild- a preview of summer- and even their hunting capes were unnecessary. With candy bars stuffed in the pockets of light jackets, both men made their way to the tree they had been watching for months. This was the one. The most climber activity of any tree in the park. By the time the night was full upon them, they were camped out under the tree. Not up against the trunk, though. On the ground a few feet out from the trunk they felt that the climbers would see them sooner here, and avoid any unpleasant surprises for their friends above them. Make sure they know you're there. They did. Still sitting quiet and motionless, both Arthur and Capt. Jack awaited the first movements near the main trunk far above their heads. They were to have bit of a wait.
Of course the climbers had gotten use to seeing the two figures under the trees across the way, where Arthur and Capt. Jack had been all these times before. Now here they were directly beneath them. The climbers would start to move away from the trunk, then fade back into the background. Was it safe? Why were those things so close? This was different. Was it safe? Eleven o'clock came and went. No climber showed itself so that the men below could see it. By midnight, there was still not the first visible movement, although the climbers were in fact a bit agitated by the situation. So was Arthur. Having had three Cokes before they set out on this little foray in the park, he was ready for something to happen. Anything. Please. Nothing happened above them that they could see from the ground. Midnight became one o'clock.
Captain Jack knew this routine well. Sit and be patient. The game will come. It might take hours- it might take all night. Just be patient. Arthur's patience came to an end first. He had been sitting there for over three hours. If this was fishing, it was time to row for shore. Or chuck a grenade into the water to wake the fish up. Arthur opted for Plan B. And no, he didn't have a grenade. He had something far more powerful: A Hershey bar. Actually, he had several. He only opened one. The rustling of the paper wrapper got Capt. Jack's attention right away. At first, he was a bit miffed that Arthur would be so noisy after all this patient waiting. Even if they hadn't seen a thing and they both knew why. Then the Captain saw what Arthur was doing. Good idea. Bring on the bait. Arthur made a point of breaking the candy bar into pieces, releasing that wonderful odor of chocolate. Captain Jack knew that if he could smell it from where he sat- and he could- then the climbers would have no trouble picking up this enticing scent. If they had noses. Arthur smiled, stood up and put the pieces of the chocolate bar on the lowest limb of the tree. There. The bait was set even if the trap was going home. It was all they could do on this first attempt. Good night, young climbers, wherever you are.
Over the following weeks, this scene played itself out again night after night. Go, sit, wait, leave. And leave a chocolate bar before you do. Were they making any progress at all? Tough to tell. Yes, they could see the climbers from time to time coming away from the trunk of the tree around midnight and making a few tentative moves out and down. The Hershey bar was always gone in the morning, Arthur made sure he checked on that. But were they getting any closer to getting any closer?
On a swirling, cloud filled night in early June, Arthur and Captain Jack finally got the proof of progress they had been looking for. The weather had looked like rain all day- it was London, after all. There had, in fact, been a bit of a drizzle that morning while both Arthur and the Captain had tried to catch up on their sleep. By the time Arthur was on his way to Charring Cross Hospital for work (and lunch) the light rain had stopped. Everything was covered in that famous dampness bordering on fog. Arthur had the hunting cap on early that day. He needed it. No sense in catching a cold after all this time. Stay healthy. Deliveries made and lunch eaten, Arthur finished up at the hospital with a bit of general cleaning and maintenance before headed out for a quick stop by his own apartment and then on to the U.S.O. With only minor variations, this had been his routine for quite some time now. Two small jobs, one of which paid lunch and the other that offered a small token of cold hard cash and dinner. Not bad for a sixteen year old boy surrounded by a war. At least the bombs were no longer falling on London. A real bonus there.
Arthur's parents had been most indulgent of their only son's nightly wanderings. Of course the knew exactly what he was up to. Captain Jack made sure they were informed, even if Arthur himself would sometimes fail to offer any sort of news updates on the situation. He was free to roam the town at all hours of the night, heedless of the curfew and seemingly immune to it. Was he on an important government mission? He didn't think so. He didn't work for the government. Did he? What about Captain Jack? Had this somehow become some sort of secret project, vaguely tied in to the war effort through the Captain's position? If it did, nothing was ever put to paper on the subject. Which gave Arthur Crutchfield absolutely no support after his book came out. No proof whatsoever.
Now, on this particularly dreary day, Arthur Crutchfield made his way to the U.S.O. as always, and found an excess of dinner awaiting in their kitchen. Cold roast beef piled high, just waiting to be made into a myriad of sandwiches for both now and later. Arthur ate his fill and packed a few more away for later. Maybe the Captain would be hungry tonight. On to the dance hall and offices, cleaning, waxing and making everything right. It was dark when he left the building and made his way toward Capt. Jack's flat. Running a little behind the usual schedule, but not a problem. He was on his way up the steps at the apartment building bordering Hyde Park when he remembered: Chocolate bars. He hadn't any. Not a one. His satchel was bulging with cold roast beef sandwiches, slathered with brown mustard on thick sliced dark bread and wrapped in paper. Heavy food. No room for the candy bars he had forgotten. Great. Now what?
All he could do was all he could do: Arthur got on with it. He climbed the stairs and made his entrance. The sandwiches were also welcome. The fog was not. The mist and drizzle of the day had turned to fog as the sun had set. Coming up off the river and winding its way through town, the fog had reached Hyde Park just as Arthur reached Capt. Jack's flat. Had he looked behind him as he walked, Arthur could have watched it follow him, swallowing up the buildings behind him on his route. Now it was settling over the park as a grey blanket, muffling what little sound there was and limiting vision to just a few yards through the trees. Were the climbers able to see through the fog? Arthur hadn't given it much thought. Not yet, anyway.
A quick discussion, a weighing of options, and a decision was reached: With really no choice but to go or to stay, they were going to go to the park- with a roast beef sandwich. This would be interesting to the point of scary. The climbers would most certainly smell that mustard, even in this heavy fog. But would they eat the meat? Captain Jack pointed out it was something they needed know, so why not give it a try? It was either that or call the evening off. No reason to do that. They needed to maintain a routine of familiarity to the climbers. They needed to go out there. Donning the hunting capes against an increasingly heavy mist, both gentlemen made their way back down the stairs and out the front door facing the park. From their side of the street, however, there was no park. Just the soft grey wall of fog. They would have to pick their way through the park with care, moving even slower than usual.
Finding the tree in the fog and settling in on the ground beneath it, Arthur Crutchfield had no idea that he was well ahead of schedule. Their short discussion in the flat took up considerably less of the evening than Arthur's usual time spent working on the book. The result was that they were there early. Almost an hour early. It was still before nine in the evening when they took up their positions below the spreading branches of what must surely be the largest oak in the park. They had no idea of the time. Not yet. With the fog rolling in thick and wet around them, the scene was quite surreal. They could see most of the tree in front and above them, but not to the top, nor out to the ends of the branches. Dark shapes at the edge of their visibility hinted at the other trees nearby, but none could be seen clearly. The ground itself went away into the mist and was lost to sight within fifty feet. The fog seemed to have a similar effect on sound. Either that, or nothing was moving in the entire city of London. The fog swirled around them- and the tree- in thick waves of grey.
In truth, not much was moving in the entire city of London. Vehicle traffic was cut to next to nothing because of the fog and the curfew. What few machines did venture out had to do so at a walking pace- no lights allowed in a blackout, remember? Foot traffic was minimal and quiet. And the bicycles never do make a noise. It was as if no one wanted to break the spell the fog held over the city. What was quiet before was silent now. Huddled beneath a tree in the center of Hyde Park, Arthur Crutchfield and Captain Jack had little to do but watch, listen and wait. With little to see and nothing to hear, that left waiting as their primary occupation at this point. Tough job in the fog. By ten o'clock, Arthur was convinced it had to be at least eleven. The climbers should be emerging from high up in the tree about now. If only he could see them through this fog. Maybe he should unwrap a sandwich and let that wonderful mustard do what it did best. Reaching under his cape, Arthur brought the sandwich out of his satchel and out where he could pull the paper off. Capt. Jack was a bit puzzled by this early move, but made no attempt to slow Arthur down. The young boy had always done well before in matters concerning their blue friends in the trees. He had to trust him. And didn't that mustard smell good? Even Capt. Jack had to wonder if there were any more sandwiches left back at his flat. And if not: Where could they get more?
Arthur had spent the last half hour peering intently up into the tree- as far as he could see in the fog. Nothing. If they were up there, it appeared they were staying close to the trunk. Maybe the fog was bad for their fur. Or whatever that blue stuff was. Holding the roast beef sandwich unwrapped in its paper in one hand, Arthur braced himself to stand up with the other. Careful, now- no need to go and trip on the cape or something equally stupid. Be calm, be quiet. Above all: No sudden moves.
It took Arthur a full minute to stand up. Slowly. Finally on his feet, he still had to put the sandwich up on the limb just above his head. An easy enough task, even in the fog and covered in with a now mist-soaked hunting cape. As he reached up, sandwich held in both hands now, he began to hear a hissing noise. The beginnings of an air raid siren? No, it didn't get louder or climb in pitch. A steam hiss, but- from where? Arthur looked around the park, arms still holding the sandwich above his head. Nothing there but the fog, as far as he could see. And it was curious, he thought: The hissing sound diminished when he lowered his head to look around. Without thinking it completely through to the logical conclusion, Arthur Crutchfield looked back up at the tree. Specifically, he focused on the limb directly above his head- and right next to his arms. Why hadn't he noticed that blue glow there before? There was the source of the hissing- not six inches from his hands. Arthur Smith Crutchfield was face to face with a climber little more than an arm's length away. No matter what happened next, he thought, it was going to be a memorable evening.
The climber, all bright teeth and blue glow, hadn't moved. Poised on the branch, its huge black eyes were solid pools of reflection. Arthur watched the black and blue patterns shift and swim over the climber's short fur as the glow seemed to intensify. The hissing noise abated, replaced by the sound of the animal drawing air in over those odd teeth. Still, it hadn't moved. Arthur didn't dare take his eyes off the thing, but he did want to know if Captain Jack was taking all this in. Was the Captain even there anymore? Arthur couldn't look, and dare not speak. Had he been aware of the term, he would have thought it a Mexican stand off. Neither could move, but one of them would have to. Hopefully before dawn, some seven hours away. Arthur's arms, still upraised, were getting tired.
Captain Jack had been watching all this from an almost safe distance. Some twenty feet away, he could clearly see the blue glow above the limb, and made out the shape of the animal crouched above Arthur. In the fog and dark, Arthur himself was a bit of a blur, but he could be seen standing stock still, arms up raised. He must be getting tired of that stance by now. What will he do? And does the climber want the sandwich or Arthur? For once, Captain Jack was woefully unprepared. His service revolver was with the rifle back at the flat. Would he have shot the thing? It did cross his mind. Without a gun, it was not an option. He could but watch.
In these seconds that felt like hours, Arthur Crutchfield pondered what few options he might have: He could run screaming from the park. Not his best move, if he wanted to continue his study of these things. Whatever they were. He could drop back down to the ground and hope the thing didn't follow him out of the tree. Ok, that was currently at the top of the list. But then another course of action bought itself to the surface. He found himself involved in it before he could think or stop himself. After all, what's the worst that could happen? He offered the sandwich to the climber.
Slowly turning his head toward the climber as he moved his hands, still holding that sandwich, toward the limb, Arthur offered the small meal with an audible questioning hum. Would the animal want this? Was Arthur about to loose his hands to a wild animal? Would it back off or attack? When Arthur stopped what little small movement he had begun, it was the climber's turn. A slow tilt of the head and the mouth- with those teeth- closed. The odd hissing noise subsided. Did the glow diminish- just a little bit? Arthur thought it might have. The animal brought its face over the edge of the limb and down a bit. It had to be smelling that sandwich. That's all it could be doing. Would it like it? In the thick fog surrounding them, the mustard was almost over-powering. Does this thing even have a nose? Ok, it's got a point between its eyes, but is that a nose? Never assume. The climber's head lowered closer to Arthur's now trembling hands. The moment of truth was- rather literally- at hand. In a heartbeat- both his and the climber's- it was over.
So fast as to be a blur, the climber thrust its head down to the food resting on the paper bag above Arthur's head. The clack of those teeth taking the offered meal would have told Arthur that the sandwich was gone, had Arthur been listening at this point. He was not. The impact of the climber's nose and muzzle into the opened bag had pushed Arthur back a step. The static charge did the rest. There was a single loud snap and flash in the air as the climber's charge was transferred and the glow was gone. As was the climber and the sandwich. Arthur was left flat on his back with the scorched bag not far from his right hand, away from the tree on the ground. Arthur was no longer tired or sleepy. He was very much wide awake. And shaking.
Captain Jack wasted no time in leaping to his friend's aid. An obvious lightning strike. Poor Arthur must be fried like a crisp. Odd there was no thunder. Just that loud snap. What's going on here? The Captain found Arthur right where he had landed beneath the tree, arms outstretched. Condition? Unknown. Eyes wide open, check for pulse. Capt. Jack reached out a hand to check the vein along Arthur's neck. Whoa- hot to the touch. At least the body's warm. And the pulse is strong. Racing, even. But no movement. Arthur? Hello? The Captain knew the night was over, as far as the climbers were concerned. He had to get this young man back inside. Arthur was in a state of frozen consciousness. He saw everything, and in doing so was amazed to the point of paralysis. No harm done? Captain Jack wasn't so sure.
After a few minutes of coaxing, Captain Jack got Arthur to his feet and was able to help him out of the park and back to the flat. Should they have gone to a hospital? The Captain considered it as they crossed the street between the park and the flat. It was, however, a distance to Charring Cross. And it stood to reason: If Arthur could walk that far to the hospital, he probably didn't need to go. Capt. Jack sat Arthur down on the front steps and looked him over. No obvious trauma- he wasn't bruised or bleeding, as far as he could tell. And he was conscious. More so with each passing minute. So what was the problem? Well, the Captain thought, if his eyes get any wider, they might just fall out and roll down the street. And he hadn't said much at all. Just a bit of muttering. All right, give it a rest here and try again. The Captain decided that if he didn't see any improvement in Arthur's condition as he sat there on the steps over the next few minutes, he'd find a way to transport him to Charring Cross. Now there was only one question left raging in both their minds: Was it the mustard or the meat?
What is it about a cup of hot tea that seems to cure most problems, real or imagined? It has to be more than just the tannin and caffeine. That warm cup of steaming brown water- there's little more to it than that- offers therapy far beyond its meager ingredients. And it can't just be me. There's something else to it. I'm sure of it. The English, and those few remaining loyal colonists, know it as well. Captain Jack was depending on it when he finally got Arthur Crutchfield to sit down in the apartment that now appeared to be drifting above the fog far above the streets and parks hidden below. That thick low fog had made it most of the way up the building, but not quite to the top. The Captain had a perfect view of the stars above, and no view whatsoever of the city below. An odd, but not unheard of, state of affairs. The Captain watched out the window, pondering the rolling low clouds below, as the kettle came to a boil.
The sound of the steaming kettle- a hiss rising to a wail, brought Arthur Crutchfield out of his stupor and on to his feet. Was it the years of hearing the kettle whistle or the fact that it did, for a moment there, sound like a climber? Captain Jack didn't wait to find out. He was there at the stove, plucking up the kettle and upending the boiling contents into the scalded tea pot. Just because it's late doesn't mean you should take short cuts. Only one way to make tea, you know.
Arthur, now standing up and walking toward the window, was as a man awakened. He remembered every detail of his encounter, but it was as though it had happened some time ago. And to some one else. He ended up by the window, looking up at the stars when Captain Jack offered him a cup of hot tea. Sipping the tea and watching the sky above the eddying fog just below the window, Arthur Crutchfield suffered a sudden violent shiver of reality. He knew what the climbers were. Or rather, he knew what they weren't, and where they weren't from. Arthur stared long and hard up into the night sky as though one of those points of light would have a little arrow next to it with a sign, "They started out here". There was no such arrow. Just stars. And, truth be known, not even the right star. It would only be visible from the southern hemisphere, and even then not for another six months or so as the earth circled to the far side of the sun.
Regardless of the astronomical reality of it all, Arthur now knew: The climbers were not of this world. He could feel the wall forming between himself and Captain Jack. Should he tell the Captain what he knew- but could not yet prove? Should he play dumb and save the truth for another day (or night)? Still watching the stars, a meteorite shot across the sky- small, fast and then gone. It had traversed the heavens above this window in the city in less than a second. Arthur stared transfixed at the night sky. Is that how they got here? There were now too many new questions for every old answer they had fought to win. Mustard or meat? One thing at a time.
By the time the cup of tea was gone, Arthur was back. Maybe not the same as he was the day before, but back. He elected to not mention too much to Captain Jack. Certain not anything about the stars. Let the good Captain figure that one out for himself. The remainder of the evening was spent going over what they had seen and what it all meant. Arthur was careful to not say too much. End the end, he gathered up his notes and papers and decided to make an early night of it. He could be across town and be home by one. An early night indeed. Captain Jack wanted to make sure Arthur was feeling well enough to travel. His skin had cooled off a bit- no longer hot to the touch- and that initial red flush in his face had dissipated. He looked no different than he had six hours ago. Unless you looked close. The eyes were a bit wider, their movement a bit faster. He wasn't going to stand still for long, and don't even suggest that he sit. Not now. Papers safe in his satchel, and satchel safe beneath his cape, Arthur Crutchfield walked out of Captain Jack's flat near midnight.
Halfway down the stairs to the front door, the original question of the night presented itself yet again: The mustard or the meat? By the time Arthur opened the front door and walked out into the fog, he knew where he'd have to go before he went home. Out on the sidewalk, Arthur made his right turn toward home just as he always did. But by the time he found the first intersection, it was time for a change of plans. Hidden by the fog from Captain Jack- if the Captain was watching- Arthur made a sharp left turn, crossed the street and entered Hyde Park. The fog was much denser here, thanks to the vegetation, lakes and ponds in the park. It took some doing, and a couple of wrong turns, for Arthur to make his way back to the tree where it had all taken place.
Even then, he wasn't sure he had the right one. If this was the tree, then he would have been standing right here, and then fell about here and- he found the paper sandwich wrapper. It was on the ground, not far from where he had fallen. Nothing had touched it in the last two hours. No real surprise there. Arthur picked it up for a closer look. Safe from prying eyes in the dense mist, he pulled out his flashlight. There was a good chance no one would see this, even in a blackout. An acceptable risk. He turned it on to examine the paper. Still some mustard smeared there. Arthur carefully folded the paper up and put it in his satchel beneath the cape. He continued to search the grounds under the tree. Nothing there. No bread. No meat. He looked, as best he could, on the lower limbs of the tree. Nothing there, either. Arthur had hoped to find bits of the roast beef scattered around the base of the tree. Proof that these things were true herbivores and had gone just for the mustard. No such luck. That meat was gone. But then, so was the bread. Omnivore? Arthur could only console himself with the thought that it was better than the third choice: Carnivore. Arthur replaced the flashlight in the satchel and took a few minutes to get used to the darkness again. By twelve-thirty he was making his way out of the park and toward home. And absolutely wide awake. Matter of fact, he felt pretty good.
As summer came fast on the heels of spring in London, Arthur's nightly schedule changed. In spite of their earlier decision to try to establish some sort of rapport with the climbers through nightly contact, Arthur felt he had experienced quite enough rapport for the time being, thank you very much. He also had no desire to have Captain Jack know about his feelings regarding the origins of the climbers. Arthur didn't want to share that quite yet. By the time summer official arrived- the Solstice- Arthur's nightly schedule was considerably less hectic and did not include Captain Jack.
Trips to Hyde Park were scaled back to every other night, maybe. There'd be the occasional two or even three night lapse in his visits to that tree. But when he went, he always took a sandwich to leave on the lower branches. And no more of this sneaking around and being quiet. Enough was enough. Now it was a simple case of walking right into the park, right up to the tree, put out the food and go. Yes, he'd always look up into the tree to see if maybe something might be looking back. But ever since that initial sandwich encounter, there wasn't. Arthur would vary the times he came to the tree- sometimes early in the evening, barely past sunset, and other times quite late. No climbers. That he could see, at least.
Now spending more time at night in his own home, Arthur spent that time working on The Book. "In Search of Sanity" was starting to take shape, even if he had no idea how, or even if, it would ever get published. The pages piled up in Arthur's hand-written scrawl. He was going to have to talk to Captain Jack about that typing service. The first part of the book looked great- all neatly typed out and ready. The later part, however, was a nightmare of fast long-hand and smears of blue ink. Arthur would have to go see Captain Jack.
He had not been avoiding Captain Jack. Not really. It was just that he had made a conscious effort to change his schedule, and the new schedule did not include the good Captain. They still met, every few days, as the Captain continued to come around to see Arthur's father. What Arthur didn't know, of course, was that now it was more to gather information than to inform Arthur's father of their progress regarding those odd animals. Of course his parents found out about his little adventure with the sandwich. Captain Jack made a vague enough reference of the encounter in his talks with Peter Crutchfield that Peter had to ask his son about the affair. Arthur, for his part, down played the whole thing: Offered it a sandwich, turns out they like roast beef and mustard. The short story. He was able to make light of the situation to divert any strong interest in it. And it seemed to work. But now his attention was turned to the book. He was going to have to get some details from the Captain if this book was really going to happen. In the end, and to his everlasting dismay, it was Peter Crutchfield that came to the book's rescue.
Peter had found out that Captain Jack's typing service was nothing more than the secretaries in the war office to which he was assigned. But yes, there were publishers interested in new titles, but – not until the war was over. Captain Jack had indeed talked with them. Having access to some clerical help himself, Peter decided to use his own office to get the typing done. It was easy enough for just about any one to keep a secret those days- and most did. Arthur was glad for the assistance, knowing that there were times when even he could not read his own writing. The system established by Captain Jack was back in place: Arthur's long-hand pages were taken away and returned a few days later with a typed initial transcript. Arthur went back over the typing, correcting misunderstandings and redefining the occasional passage. That corrected typed draft went back for a re-type, and the resulting final copy was then bound up in a metal box kept beneath his bed. That seemed the safest place, even during a war.
With his new schedule and arrangement in place, Arthur Crutchfield's life settled into a comfortable routine through July of 1945. It was summer, the weather was perfect, and We Were Winning the War. Life, for those still living, was good and about to get better. Arthur worked at Charring Cross Hospital almost every day, and at the U.S.O. most evenings. Three times a week, late at night, Arthur would return to Hyde Park with a sandwich for his friends in the trees. If he had any regrets about not having a repeat of that first amazing sandwich encounter, he wisely kept them to himself. Arthur found out soon enough that lightning, from whatever the source, can indeed strike twice.
A great variety of inventions and events were coming together in the summer of 1945 to conspire to push Arthur Crutchfield into the harsh glare of the public spotlight- just as soon as this war was over. High over the war-torn towns and landscape of Der Fatherland, the Allied air forces were encountering their own strange sights: The Germans had planes that lacked propellers. No propellers? Even the Wright brothers' first plane had propellers. What were these things? The two most common were also the most incredible: Messerschmidt's ME262 Sturmvogel (The Stormbird) was a stunningly clean twin-engine jet fighter plane. The design was as sleek as shark and the machine equally timid. Whatever the aircraft might have lacked in maneuverability or firepower it more than made up in speed and shock value. No propellers? The true shock value had to be reserved for the other stunning sight in the skies over Europe that summer: Messerschmidt's other little surprise: the ME163 Komet (Like you need a translation for that one).
It was probably the most aptly named aircraft of all time. Powered by a two part liquid fuel rocket, it was true to it's name: A comet blazing across the European skies. And also like a comet, look quick or it would be gone. Moving at speeds just under the speed of sound, this high-powered swept wing wonder would use all it's fuel in just over seven minutes. That made for one wild ride. Ignite the rocket motor and scream down the grass runway on a non-retractable two wheeled dolly that falls off at the end of the field as you pull back on the stick. (Saves weight that way.) Then it's a near vertical climb at full throttle (Was there any choice there on the throttle setting?) for one pass at those incoming B-17's- all while moving at speeds approaching four times that of the heavy bombers. Makes you very tough to hit. The Komet pilots had enough fuel for just one chance to go at the enemy bombers with a single 20mm cannon before they had to plan that equally prompt return to earth. Fuel spent, these rocket ships became fast gliders high above the German countryside. With no landing gear (left it on the ground, remember?), they relied on a retractable skid to help soften the impact of a fast dead-stick landing. And those fuel tanks had better be empty. Completely empty. A hard landing with any remaining fuel meant a probable explosion. To survive the flight meant a birthday party for the pilot that night. Every time.
Pilots on both sides were duly impressed with these marvels of German invention. They worked, and worked well. The Germans had other jet planes, of course, including a design by Arrado that would be copied almost bolt for bolt by the U.S. A-10 years afterward. A good design is timeless- especially if you don't have to pay for it. But as stunning as these jet and rocket marvels were, the big news was brewing on the other side of the world. Under extreme security in the deserts of New Mexico, U.S.A., scientists had assembled something to give the world nightmares forever: A portable, on-demand sun.
While those uncommon German airplanes were primarily defensive weapons, scientists in America had been laboring in small groups around the country for years to come up with what must surely rank as the most offensive weapon ever made. The sad part was that it worked- forever erasing one man's ability to ever trust another.
This first one looked harmless enough, rather like a rickety steel water tower, but a water tower was a bit out of place there in the desert near Alamogordo. No water here. And after the push of a button before dawn one morning there was no water tower, either. With a nuclear reaction brighter than the sun, the steel tower was vaporized as an uncontrolled chain reaction turned mass into energy. Ol’ Albert had been right: E really did equal MC squared. And it was the C squared part that had them worried there for a minute. After setting off this first atomic device, observers did in fact worry, watching the incredible white flash spread across the desert, that perhaps it wouldn't stop, but continue to grow and consume all matter. Everything. Of course, this was AFTER THEY PUSHED THE BUTTON. What is it about hindsight having perfect vision? Sadly, the blast did stop before it vaporized all the scientists and military personnel gathered to watch this historic event. Relieved, seeing as how they weren't all converted to energy, it was decided that this immense secret was too good to keep hidden for long. As that first mushroom cloud hung over the desert- and the real sun rose in the west wondering about its new competition, it was decided that they would share this new found wonder with the Japanese. Soon.
Arthur Crutchfield knew nothing about all this in the first days of August in 1945. He had heard bits of news about jets- by now even the British and Americans were working on designs. That portable sun was still quite the Ultimate Top Secret on another continent. Like the rest of the world, he had no way of knowing that all concerned were about to be pushing headlong into The Nuclear Age. Even those that knew of the capability had no clue of the long term implications. Not that it would have stopped them. Even with hindsight.
For now, Arthur had his routine. The hospital, the U.S.O., and every other night or so, the park. Other nights were spent working on the book, either writing new material or reading the typed drafts. An easy life- about to come undone. Maybe it was the sandwich that night- he had another roast beef and brown mustard. Never did figure out which was the attraction to the climbers. They ate the whole thing. Maybe it was just the fact that the war was dragging on and food was still scarce. Even if your diet consisted of plants in the park. In the midst of summer, the plants were not looking all that good. Could use a bit more rain here. For whatever the reason, Arthur had his second meeting with a climber before the war was over and before his book was done. And while it had no effect on the war, the meeting had a profound effect on the book.
It was a Tuesday night, the first one of the month. The weather was fair and the sky held just enough clouds to keep the day from becoming too warm. Arthur's work at Charring Cross Hospital had been merely mundane for the last few days. He ran the messages and moved supplies. No driving today. With the steady decrease in patients had come a steady decrease in needs. This left Arthur free to spend the afternoon in other pursuits, if he had any. He did not. Mid-day found him walking the streets of London between the hospital and the U.S.O. Too early for dinner, but never too early for afternoon tea. Arthur found himself at Victoria Station, spending just a bit of his hard-earned cash money for a light meal in the late afternoon. It was more to pass the time than anything else. He knew he'd get a good meal later, with the Americans not two blocks away. They tended toward large evening meals. Now, so did Arthur. Settled in on a bench in Victoria, Arthur watched the constant parade of travelers and pigeons. Neither seemed to stop or wane. It was a marvel to Arthur that none of the slow little birds ever seemed to get punted across the station by the faster moving travelers. They were always just barely out of the way. Every time. About the time he started wondering if he could run across there fast enough to give one the boot, he knew it was time to go. He had been there long enough. If he stayed, he'd only get in trouble kicking pigeons. On to the U.S.O.
Since Monday night at the U.S.O. was never any great uproar, the Tuesday night clean-up tended to be a piece of cake, in the words of the American staff. (Arthur had increased his vocabulary tremendously there.) This night was no exception. Arthur had the dance hall looking perfect in near-record time and the offices soon followed. No muss, no fuss. By seven-thirty, his normal work was done. By eight o'clock, Arthur Crutchfield could be found in the kitchen, packing his satchel with wrapped sandwiches and consuming his weight in Hershey bars and Coca-Cola. Nice work, if you can get it. Arthur managed to pack in four rather large roast beef sandwiches before he started feeling a bit guilty, but did manage a fifth before he stopped. Five candy bars and two Cokes later, he was out of there- with a few bars of chocolate and a couple of sodas to go. He was set for an expedition to darkest Africa, but he was only headed to Hyde Park. Eight-thirty and the gathering gloom of nightfall saw Arthur Crutchfield out the back door of the U.S.O., through the mews and out to the main street. But it was still early. Maybe the long way to the park tonight? He had time.
Fueled by an over-abundance of the three major food groups (chocolate, sugar and caffeine), Arthur was making quick work of the long way to the park. Matter of fact, he was considerably past it. Somewhere north of the park and the palace, he found himself walking along Baker Street. Of course he had been there before, like everyone before him, looking for an address that didn't exist. But it had been fun to look and to speculate. Could Mrs. Hudson possibly have another room to let? Was his now available? A boy could dream. And what would the great consulting detective make of Arthur's current mystery. "The Strange Affair of the Blue Tree Dwellers?" Too wordy a title. Doyle would no doubt find a less cumbersome name for it all. But what of the famous, if imaginary, man himself? What would Holmes make of all this? Probably not very much.
The idea of off-planet life forms being put on earth as the result of some sort of interplanetary "Drive 'em out into the country and dump them off where no one's looking" would never have occurred to most gentlemen in Victorian England some fifty years before. (H. G. Wells being the exception, of course.) It occurred to almost no one now. Arthur was the obvious current exception. Even now, after the end of the Twentieth Century, the popular concept of life on other worlds remains pretty much the same as it's been for the last fifty years: They're smarter than us, but Ugly with a capital U. The Great Detective would never have made the connection between these odd blue animals in the trees and the stars in the heavens at night. He would have lost this case. Would Arthur win?
North of Baker Street, Arthur made a big loop to the left to end up back at the southern end of Hyde Park well after dark. As before, traffic had diminished to almost nothing after dark. A few stray cars motored quietly through the dark streets, barely showing enough light to see the curbs. Bicycles whisked by silently, their owners not daring to ring their bells and disturb the dark silence. Pedestrians were all bound on short trips- next door, around the block and little else. There were no sight-seers in London tonight. Except for Arthur Crutchfield.
Choosing an entry from the southwest, Arthur was now consciously avoiding the gaze of Captain Jack, perched high above the park near the other side. Under the full blanket of trees between them, Arthur made his way through the wooded areas, studiously avoiding any open spaces that might lead to detection from above. He could be stealthy when he had to. He was still The Stoat. Through the trees, Arthur watched the clouds moving in a lazy arc across the sky from out of the west. Good weather? Bad weather? Arthur had no idea what that might portend. Weather. That was all. There on the ground, surrounded by the city, there was no breeze at all in the park. The air was still and quiet and clear. Not a hint of fog tonight. Had there not been a war on, Arthur was sure there would have been a band playing in the park. No band tonight. It was so quiet, Arthur felt it would have been uncomfortable to even hum a tune. Rather like whistling in the graveyard. He did, however, find his way back to that infamous center of the park, and those big old trees.
Having walked in from a side opposite his usual route, Arthur settled in on the far side of his normal perch. Dressed in a long sleeve shirt and vest (a waistcoat, really) and wearing a lighter weight of trousers and shoes, Arthur looked less the adventurer he was and more the schoolboy he should have been, complete with that ever-present satchel. On this side of the park, Arthur had found a bench that overlooked The Tree. It was a bit further away than he preferred to be, but it was more comfortable than sitting on the ground. Besides, if he didn't get his trousers too dirty, perhaps he'd stop back by the U.S.O. on his way home later. Hadn't they always said to stop back by any time? Maybe tonight was that time. So he'd try to stay clean. Or cleaner, anyway. The bench was also under a tree, an old oak that was large, but not nearly as large as the one he was watching. Arthur settled back, relaxed, and began to do what he had learned to do so well: Wait.
As the night went darker, and what few lights to be seen went out, Arthur was left in near-total darkness. In the distance, outside the boundaries of Hyde Park, a few low dim lights could be seen. They cast no light at all in the park, and offered nothing for Arthur but reference points. The sky lacked so much as a sliver of a moon, and star light alone made for poor illumination. The more he looked around, the darker it seemed. How had he walked through this park so many times in the dark and not smacked nose-first into a tree? It was bloody dark out here. He sat amazed for quite some time, not watching the trees, not looking for climbers- just soaking up the darkness. Not cave-dark but, considering he was in the middle of London, quite dark enough for him. Coming out of this revelry, Arthur realized something else: Hershey bars and Coca-Cola do not a dinner make. He was hungry.
There had been no climbers to be seen in that darkness. He really thought he was too far from that big tree to see much of anything, anyway. He could be right under that thing and not see an elephant on the limb above him. There was a sobering thought, had he been drunk. Involuntarily, he looked up into the tree above him. No elephants. Good. Time to eat. Arthur opened his satchel and dragged out a wrapped sandwich and a bottle of soda. He sat the bottle carefully on the bench and opened the paper surrounding the sandwich. Now the sandwich was put aside as the bottle was opened with a minimum of fuss and noise. Ever so slowly, just in case all that walking might have shook up a few bubbles. There. Dinner was served. And didn't it smell good? Arthur went to work on that big sandwich, regretting only the lack of a napkin. Ah, well- Wasn't that what sleeves were for? So much for the U.S.O. later.
Arthur was well on his way to finishing off that sandwich when he stopped for another drink of Coke. Sandwich aside on the paper, the bottle was upended for its contents when Arthur happened to focus his eyes on the fluted green glass container in front of his face and- And the streaks of blue reflected across the top surfaces of that glass. Something blue, reflected in that upturned bottle, had to be glowing right above him. And it was not an elephant. Oh, bother.
He was not totally unprepared for this. Then again, neither was the climber. Above Arthur, clinging upside down to the main trunk, it was not the biggest blue thing in the park. Nor was it the smallest. For now, however, it was the most curious. And didn't that food smell good? That blue glow, if faint before, was building steadily as the climber pondered a course of action. That ground thing had the same food stuff that appeared on the branches. Food stuff! How to get to it? Claws dug firmly into the bark of the old oak, the climber had not moved for quite some time. It had been there, minus the glow and blended perfect with the trunk, when Arthur had walked right up and sat down. It had no where to go, and nothing to do but wait. Both the climber and Arthur had been playing at the same game. The climber was a much better waiter, but it appeared that Arthur was serving the food. And the climber grew tired of waiting.
True, the climber would (probably) not attack Arthur outright for the sandwich. It wasn't that aggressive. Yet. But it was considering raising a fuss, such as it could, to possibly drive the thing off and make it leave the food stuff. To that end, it began to hiss. It was pretty much the sum total of its repertoire. And quite frankly, Arthur had heard this song before. Even knew the words. He hissed right back without even looking up at the thing. Might even confuse the snot out of it, if that was in fact a nose.
If the climber had a plan, so did Arthur Crutchfield. He would not give ground. He would not run or even make a fast move in any direction. With the climber now hissing (A warning? A dinner request?) Arthur returned the compliment with a twist: He started to slowly turn around on the bench to face his dinner companion. As he did, he reached into that satchel to pull out another prize. As we all know, there was more than one sandwich in that bag. And Arthur Crutchfield was nothing if not generous. More than willing to share. Which he did.
Having read a little bit- a very little bit- on animals, Arthur knew not to make eye contact. Play a more submissive role. Stay low. He did. Without standing or looking up into the tree, Arthur got situated and the second sandwich was brought out. As he slowly opened it, he slid himself to the far left side of the bench, making as little noise as he could. Easy enough. Now he gently placed the opened offering on the other end of the bench. That done, he could now finish his own sandwich in peace. Couldn't he?
Without so much as a glance to the tree, Arthur rejoined his sandwich already in progress. If that thing wanted to eat, it would have to come and get it. No room service here. Come to the table, little blue kid. Arthur finished his own sandwich, and went (slowly and gently) back into his satchel for dessert. Nothing like a chocolate bar to wrap up dinner. Before the bar of brown goodness was completely opened, Arthur felt he could have whipped out a book and done a little reading by the light of the full blue climber. It was getting positively bright under that tree. Trying hard to not turn his head, Arthur put the last half of the Hershey bar down on the bench to his right. As he did, he could feel all the hairs on the back of his right hand standing on end. The hissing noise, now subsided, was replaced by a low crackling of static electricity. He pulled that hand back as quickly as he could without jerking. As it was, his right hand was now all tingling- almost numb. WHERE WAS THAT THING?
Arms kept folded across his chest (and that right hand protectively hidden), Arthur turned his head as slowly as he possibly could to his right. The climber was there. Right there- Not three feet away on the other end of the bench. Sitting on its haunches, tail against the arm of the bench, the climber was hunched over the sandwich with it's head turned up to keep both of those huge black eyes on Arthur Crutchfield. What had been stunned alarm- almost fear- turned to pity when Arthur got a close look at the animal seated beside him. It looked for all the world as though some one had snatched a bull terrier, painted it blue and bobbed its tail and ears. And not fed it for about a year. That was the saddest thing. Beneath those shifting blue patterns, Arthur could see what had to be ribs. All of them. This thing was hungry- possibly starved. The effects of war were far-reaching and always sad. Arthur stared into those black eyes for what seemed three forevers. Maybe four. In the end, he did what any self-respecting Englishman would have done when faced with a stranger at close quarters: He introduced himself.
In what he hoped would be perceived as warm, friendly, comfortable low tones, Arthur Crutchfield whispered hello. And while not the first meeting between animals from different planets, it was perhaps the first where one wasn't trying to flee the other. Or eat them. He spoke as he would to a strange dog, trying to convey an unthreatening feeling of safety and security. He wanted to dispel any fear- both the climber's and his own. Mainly his own. Arthur considered it a very good thing that when he stopped talking, the climber was still there.
Some distance away, and considerably further from the ground, Captain Jack had spent the evening pacing in his flat. The occasional nervous glance out the window- with binoculars- had shown a distinctive blue glow in a small area of Hyde Park. But not at the big tree he had been watching with Arthur. There was something going on out there. He was sure of it. He was also sure he'd never get down the stairs and out into the park in time to see much of anything that was going on out there right now. The Captain would have to be content with distant view, and he was not. A quick decision and he was out the door- armed.
With his service revolver tucked in under his coat, it was time to go hunting. No need for binoculars now, as he was planning on speed to get him in close fast. Down the stairs and out the front door toward the park, Captain Jack kept a mental picture of where that blue glow had been in the park. Not at the big tree, but further on: Somewhere to the southwest. Once in the park, he went for the shortest route- right through the woods and across the paths, detouring only for bodies of water that couldn't be jumped at a fast walk. Could he see the blue glow through the trees? Was that it over there? Captain Jack was almost running now through Hyde Park. The revolver was no longer concealed.
A hundred yards away, on a bench beneath a tree, two animals were having a late night snack. One of them was human: Arthur Crutchfield. The other was not, and its name unknown. The two were easy enough to tell apart. The human wasn't glowing blue (and was considerably larger). Sandwiches done, they were both munching on candy bars now. The climber (that would be the blue one for those of you not paying attention for the last 300 pages) was still very wary of its dinner companion. Still seated, more or less, on the far end of the bench, it was continually watching Arthur at the other end of the seat. The chocolate in its hands was fast disappearing, and it was getting nervous. Arthur had already finished his in large- but quiet- bites. Time for another? Sounded like a good idea to both. without looking at his new-found blue buddy, Arthur tried to quietly reach back into that satchel for two more Hershey bars. Why not? Things had certainly gone well so far. Arthur had been able to observe this animal at close quarters longer than he ever imagined. He had watched it eat, watched it wait, and watched it watch. He thought he'd seen it all. The blue glow had waxed and waned, seemingly dependent upon the climber's perception of external threat. Now, after a big sandwich and one candy bar, it was still glowing, but the pattern shifts had slowed down considerably.
Pulling out a second bar of chocolate for the climber, Arthur noticed an increase in the blue glow. Not to worry, a natural reaction to his movement. He unwrapped half the bar and, without looking, held it out to his right for the climber to take. He didn't put it on the bench, as he had the sandwich and the first bit of candy. Was he rushing the familiarity? May as well find out.
Now fifty yards away and closing fast, Captain Jack had his weapon held above his head with both hands, ready to level it and fire as he moved as quietly as he could through the last of the trees separating him from that blue glow. It had to be a climber on the ground. He had to get there. The glow seemed to be brighter now- Right before it vanished completely with a sharp crack of electricity.
The park was pitch dark now and Captain Jack was moving blind through the trees. His eyes had become accustomed to that blue glow. No glow, no light, no sight. He stopped dead in his tracks, gun held straight out in front of him now. Anything comes out of the gloom from that direction would be shot on sight, if not before. Nothing there. Nothing moved- no sounds at all. And no glow at all, either. He would have seriously considered trading the hand gun for a flashlight right about then. Carefully shuffling his feet forward, Captain Jack edged his way toward where he thought the glow had been. After a shuffling eternity in the darkness, he felt his left boot hit the edge of the park bench. Very solid, that. He lowered his gun at it. Did it need to be shot? Maybe not. He eased off the trigger, and felt the bench with one hand. Nothing there except- Candy wrappers? Burnt candy wrappers, by the smell of it. How odd.
Gun still drawn, the Captain worked his way around the front of the bench. nothing there but those few bits of burnt paper. Phew. Hot chocolate was one thing, this was quite another. By the time he had reached the far end of the bench, there still wasn't a clue as to what had happened here, or even if he had found the right spot in the park. Was this where it was? Had a climber been here? On the bench or on the ground? He couldn't be sure. Captain Jack holstered the pistol. Nothing here. No target. He took a step out past the far side of the bench, went for another and tripped over something on the ground.
He didn't fall, we'll give him that. But it took some fancy foot work and long strides to stay upright over that obstacle. The Captain got himself stopped and then turned carefully- and slowly- around. Back to the slow foot shuffle routine, back to- what? There it was. Something on the ground on this side of the bench. Not too high, kind of long and sort of soft, like a… like a body. With that thought, Captain Jack immediately knelt down to find out. Yes, most definitely. Dead? Could be. The Captain found the neck and checked for a pulse. Hmmm. Faint, but there. Maybe. Maybe that was his own pulse pounding through his fingers that he felt. And what's this strap thing across the shoulder? Some sort of bag or- a satchel. Oh, my. This had to be Arthur Crutchfield. It had to be.
With no more thought or concern for his own well-being (and quite possibly smacking his own head on a low tree limb), Captain Jack stood up and grabbed Arthur by the waistcoat. In one smooth move, he pulled him up off the ground and threw him over his shoulder like so much dead meat. Satchel and all. The Captain was in full hunter mode now- all eyes and ears. A fast darting look around gave him some idea of his location- and the fastest way out of the park: He was nearer the far side of the grounds, away from his own lodgings. Unfortunate, but that was life. He set off as fast as he could through the woods, holding one hand out in front of himself for both balance and protection while the other held Arthur in place. It still took five minutes to make the closest road. He only fell once.
Once on the main road, there as no reason to stop. Ten-thirty, not late by the Captain's and Arthur's standards, but still a bit late to cage a quick ride. No traffic out at all. Only one recourse: By foot. But to where? Captain Jack had a basic knowledge of London, but primarily its parks. What he needed right now was a hospital. Charring Cross Hospital. Arthur worked there. Perfect. Where was it? Low lights a block away to the north beckoned him- with his inert load- out of the darkness. Somebody there would know. The Captain picked up the pace now. No obstructions on the sidewalks and city streets. At least there weren't supposed to be.
If you ever want to make a stunningly memorable entrance in a pub or small cafe, I can strongly recommend The Captain Jack Method: Slam the door back with one hand and rush in with a body thrown over the other shoulder. Now that's an opening to remember. And one that none there would soon forget. Not for a day or so. The regular patrons of the Owl & Mirror (a tavern whose Germanic heritage had been skillfully hidden at the outbreak of the previous war) thought this to be a grand way to come in, seeing as how that was the way folks did occasionally leave. A novel twist on the theme. But this fellow wasn't joking, and his dead friend did seem to be, well, a bit dead. The fact that the body's eyes were wide open was a bit disconcerting, to say the least. The hospital? Not a problem: North on this road a bit then make your right turn. Can't miss it. Well, you could, but that wouldn't be wise, now would it? A vehicle? Sorry mate, none available. Need a bit of help there? The Captain declined the offer of help (he could run faster by himself), and thanked them for the directions. Back out the door and into the night. The O&M buzzed a bit over the condition of the carried man before the next round of ale. Their evening had certainly been made. But those wide open eyes- they were sorry they saw that. Twenty minutes later, Captain Jack made a similar entrance at Charring Cross Hospital and was rewarded with a far more enthusiastic response. Arthur Crutchfield was immediately recognized. Arty!
Midnight found Captain Jack meandering the streets of London minus the extra body. Less impressive, but easier walking. He was headed generally, but not directly, for his flat by the park. No hurry, though. Nothing waiting for him there. Charring Cross had proved to be the best choice for Arthur Crutchfield. At least it was from the Captain's point of view. The staff there was so concerned over their ill-fated messenger boy, they hardly asked the Captain a single question or waited for much of an answer. All he had to say was that he found him on the ground near Hyde Park. That was it. No details, no "please leave your name", nothing. Fine. He didn't want to tell them anything anyway. Once they turned their backs on him, he was out the door and gone. Now half an hour later, he was just another shadow in the late night darkness of London and Arthur Crutchfield was in the most comfortable bed he'd ever known. Not that he knew it, just yet.
Wednesday morning found Arthur Crutchfield absolutely wide awake in a hospital bed at Charring Cross Hospital. His parents were there, alerted the night before of Arthur's situation and condition by the hospital staff. Peter Crutchfield had immediately called Captain Jack, but there was no answer at that number. He was still out walking through the night. The Crutchfields had spent the night at the hospital, waiting for Arthur to come out of the odd stupor. At least his eyes were closed when the got there. He had seen enough for now.
Arthur had remained silent through the night. Better to appear the fool? Not quite. He was taking it all in, as he had been from the moment of contact. After the initial shock had worn off somewhat- to where he could focus both his eyes and his thoughts- he had watched all the action around him and contemplated both what had happened and what he might have to say had happened. The truth, he decided early on, was not at this point for public consumption. And what was the truth? What had really happened before Captain Jack showed up, gun drawn and ready? The truth was that Arthur had been a compete fool and it had nearly cost him his life.
Some eight hours before, Arthur Crutchfield had been on a bench in the darkness of Hyde Park. He was not alone. At the other end of that bench, a concrete and wood affair that must have weighed over a quarter ton, sat something decidedly not human. A climber, glowing blue with static electricity, had just come down from the tree behind him and ate a roast beef sandwich. Its table manners were not perfect, but the mess wasn't too bad. It had been hungry. Following the sandwich, dessert was in order, and Arthur had offered the animal a Hershey bar. Seemed like a good idea at the time. The climber had in fact taken the bar from Arthur, but only after he sat the partially unwrapped bar down on the bench. The climber was still wary. So was Arthur. After a late night dinner of roast beef, dark bread and chocolate, it was only natural: They were both thirsty. Arthur still had a small supply of Coca-Cola in those small 6 1/2 ounce glass bottles. He had just finished one himself, but another would go well after that dinner. He had pulled one out of that infamous satchel when the thought hit him: He had never seen a climber drink anything. Did they? Could they?
Arthur had pried the top off the bottle and went for a monkey-see, monkey-do teaching approach. He took a big instructional swig of cola from the green bottle and held it out for the climber. The monkey saw, and the monkey was going to do. But this monkey was packing a big electric wallop and sharp claws to boot. The instant the climber went for the bottle it wrapped its clawed hand around Arthur's. The static charge now had a path to travel at the speed of light. Arthur didn't stand a chance. The multiple layers of sharp claws only added injury to the insult, ripping across the top of his out-stretched hand. The snap and flash of the charge jumping through Arthur made him instantly forget the sudden pain of a hundred sharp knives raking across that hand. The jolt was strong enough to throw him back over his end of the bench and onto the ground beyond. The Coke bottle fell and rolled back behind the bench and the climber went straight up to the lowest limb of the tree. It never did get that sip of Coke. Half a minute later, Captain Jack was on the scene.
Eyes wide open, Arthur could see amazingly well in the darkness. He just couldn't move or speak. He felt his legs move when Captain Jack ran into him that first time, and felt the breeze across his face as he was suddenly propelled into the night sky and over the Captain's shoulder. From there, he had a rocking, jostling view with just one eye, the other being turned toward the Captain's back. That run through the park in the night was the oddest sort of entertaining ride. Arthur had nothing to compare it to, had he been so inclined. The pub was an equally odd interlude. Why were they there? This was no time to stop in for a pint of ale. Directions? He needs directions? The Great White Hunter was lost? Had he been able, Arthur would have laughed out loud. As it was, it took all of his conscious mental effort just to breathe. Mentally, he was screaming: "CHARRING CROSS, YOU BLITHERING IDIOT!" Arthur was relieved moments later to see that he was indeed headed in the general direction of the hospital. He elected to remain quiet as though he had a choice.
Once inside the hospital, everything became a blur of sights and sounds. Arthur closed his eyes and just listened. Having watched entirely too many bomb-damaged civilians come through those same doors, he knew the general chain of events. No need to see it all again. There was still nothing he could add to the overall clamor. Still dumb, numb and hearing a hum. Shocked, in every sense of the word.
Placed in a hospital bed in a ward with only half the beds occupied, Arthur knew it wouldn't be long before he had company. It was just a question of who would show up first. Captain Jack had brought him there, so he might assume he would see the Captain again very soon. Then again, he heard them ring up his own lodgings, waking his parents. They certainly wouldn't be waiting for daylight to stop by. The night was young, even if this boy was feeling considerably older. Tough call, but he was surprised to see his parents first. That had been Captain Jack who brought him in, hadn't it? He did see him there in the harsh light of the hospital, hadn't he? Now by the light of that Wednesday morning, Arthur Crutchfield was starting to question some of the events of the previous night. Who really brought him here?
Peter and Victoria Crutchfield were only slightly more confused than their son Arthur. They also had assumed that Captain Jack would be there, and that it was Captain Jack who had brought Arthur in. But no Captain. After that moment's delay, both mother and father proceeded to barrage their helpless (and hapless) son with far too many questions. What, when and where were just the beginning. Arthur could only lay back and smile, waiting patiently for a break in the stream of questions to try to answer what he could. After a time, it was his turn and he took it.
He had been thinking about this moment for several hours: What to tell the parents? It's every teenager's dilemma, with varying degrees of intensity. This was not really so bad- from the teenager's point of view: There was no property damage and the police were not involved. These were both good points in Arthur's favor. But they did want to know what happened, and they already suspected those blue things in the trees. Would Arthur confirm that suspicion? What were his choices?
The night had been only partly cloudy, and high fast clouds at that. No chance on blaming it on a stray bolt of lightning. Curse this unfortunate good weather. And by now, it was too late in the war to use his all-time favorite excuse: Kidnapped by Nazi Commando Frogmen. It had been a fool-proof line, when he could use it. Too late now, the war was nearly won. With time running out, he relied on The Great Standard Teenager Response: "I dunno."
Arthur went with the classic defense: He was just sitting there on the park bench, minding his own business. Next thing he knew, he was in this hospital bed. Gosh, how did that happen? I dunno. He saw no need to involve Captain Jack- if he was in fact involved at all- or the climbers. Of course he knew what had happened, up to a point. And that point was right where he was foolish enough to hand that bottle of Coca-Cola over to the climber sitting next to him on the park bench. Arthur even remembered the flash of light in his face, but that was it. No sound or clap of thunder, no memory of the pain of being thrown off the bench and onto the ground from the shock or the injury to his hand from the climber's claws. He had only the vaguest memory even now of being picked up off the ground by… by whom? By someone, and hauled through a pub on the way to the hospital. Captain Jack? He wished he knew. Where was Captain Jack, anyway? Right hand swathed in bandages (How'd that happen, he wondered?), Arthur felt mildly sedated (he was) but otherwise very wide awake. Almost to the point of being amused by just about everything. Especially himself. Captain Jack, on the other hand, was not nearly so jocular at the moment.
Having spent the night walking from park to park throughout most of central London, Captain Jack had been pondering His Next Move. This had all come to a head, he felt, and something would have to be done about these climbers, even if that meant ripping through every tree in London. Had one attacked Arthur? Arthur was certainly in the hospital, and something nasty sharp had danced across the boy's right hand. Hope he didn't plan on playing the piano any time soon. The Captain had no clear idea of his course of action or direction most of the night. He had walked in big circles around the town, visiting whatever parks he had come to. Now it was daylight and he was famished. Exercise is no substitute for sleep and neither will it pass for a good breakfast. It was time for food. Unconsciously headed back to Charring Cross Hospital, Captain Jack stopped short of his goal at a small restaurant across the street from the hospital's main entrance. This looked as good as any, and probably better than the hospital food across the way. The Captain went in, sat down and ordered a sizable Great White Hunter sort of breakfast. No rush. May as well eat well. Arthur Crutchfield wasn't going to be going anywhere any time soon. Now neither would he.
With breakfast served, Captain Jack proceeded to make short work of a tall order. Ever the hunter, he couldn't help but overhear some of the conversations around him that morning. Apparently not all hospital workers enjoyed hospital food. More than a few were there for breakfast along with the Captain. Most had been on duty through the night. And their topic of conversation that morning? Poor Arty. It didn't take long for Captain Jack to figure out that “Poor Arty” was, in fact, his friend Arthur Crutchfield. He tried to not be so obvious in his listening. Animals may not notice, but these people might. And what was wrong with Poor Arty? The stories differed, and grew with the telling.
By the time Captain Jack had wrapped up his morning meal with yet another last cup of tea, the general story had progressed: Brought in late the night before by a good Samaritan, Arty had been dumped on the admissions area floor by some roughly dressed hooligan who immediately fled into the night. The poor boy was unconscious but wide awake, and his right hand (or was it his left? Maybe both.) had been mangled, bitten, mutilated, and/or torn. Pick one. Bitten seemed to be the prevailing theory over breakfast. No one seemed to put much consideration in Arthur's mental/physical state: The fact that he had been, as they said, unconscious but wide awake. Captain Jack hadn't really noticed that in his rush in the dark. He had just been concerned about getting him to help. He was wide awake? If he was, he had been mighty quiet about it. Now Arty was resting in a bed up on the third floor and his parents had been there through the night. Yes, he's still wide awake, although they had given him something for the pain in that hand. Hope he didn't play piano.
It had to be a climber. Captain Jack knew it, but he didn't know how he knew it. Arthur (Arty? Really?) Must have gotten too close to one- maybe cornered one some how in the park and it turned on him. Bite him? Maybe. Clawed him, more likely. And that shocked condition? No idea. That blue glow? Electricity? These things are electric? Arthur had been electrocuted. Captain Jack finally finished his basic addition on the situation: The climber didn't have to attack Arthur, just touch him. Zap! That's all it would take if the thing had some sort of natural electric defense mechanism. Like an eel. But his injured hand? From the shock? Not entirely. Maybe that was the contact point, but the damage was intensified by the animal's claws. That had to be it. But why? Why did it happen at all? Why did they touch? Captain Jack had almost all the pieces of this puzzle in place. Only one person could fill in the blanks now. Time to finish up here and move across the street. He had a patient to visit.
Between the small restaurant and the hospital's door, Captain Jack planned his moves. What would he do? What would he say? Should he be crafty, lay back and wait? Or attack? By the time he found Arthur's room, he had his plan: Attack. Jump right in with both feet and don't look back. Seeing Arthur's parents in the room couldn't slow him down in the least. Captain Jack's opening salvo answered more questions than Arthur had answered all morning. With a greeting something like, "Looks like that climber won the first round, eh Arthur?", the Captain let the young boy know that he knew what had happened. Yes, it was a bluff, and no, he didn't really know. But he was willing to take a chance and gamble on the bold move. Needless to say, this approach certainly changed the conversational tone of the room. What had been the quiet contemplation of a mystery became a flurry of unanswered questions and speculation. The Captain had smacked the hornet's nest. There was much buzzing.
While Peter Crutchfield directed his questions to Captain Jack- Who did freely admit that he had brought Arthur to the hospital the night before- Arthur's mother wanted some answers from her son, who was now only slightly less amused than he was a few minutes ago. So it was Captain Jack that brought him here! He must have been close to Arthur in the park when the climber had reached out. He must have seen it all. So much for Arthur's "I dunno". If he didn't know, he was about to find out. And so was the rest of the world, courtesy of Captain Jack.
All through the day (Wednesday), Arthur remained awake and alert. By that evening, the bandages on his hand had been changed as a doctor looked him over. It was determined that he could probably be released on Thursday, just held over one night for observation. Just to be sure. It was almost his undoing. Having taken a rather strong charge from his little blue buddy, Arthur Crutchfield was now Mister Wide Awake. During the daytime, it was no big deal. He shuffled around the hospital, getting constantly told to go back to bed and to not try to do anything. Like deliver messages in a hospital gown and bath robe. As that first day progressed, Arthur found himself getting more wide awake as evening approached. He thought it odd, but of no major importance. He had gotten by for years by now on very little sleep. Maybe he had gotten more sleep last night than he knew, from whatever the cause. It was after sunset that he really perked up. Even he could feel it. By nine o'clock that Wednesday night, he had found his clothes and put them on. He knew he couldn't just walk out and leave the hospital- the doctor would want to see him in the morning, and the nurses were constantly watching him now. He did manage to convince them to let him get dressed so he could walk around the grounds outside. He needed to be outside. In the fresh air and the night. And among the trees. There was a small garden on the grounds behind the hospital, and Arthur headed there about ten that night. Once outside, surrounded by the darkness, his nervousness seemed to subside. He could sit and relax under the trees. He watched every star in the sky. Which one? How could he find out? They all looked the same to him. There must be a way to tell. Dawn found him still in the garden, still watching the stars.
Watching the sun come up, Arthur had one thought and one thought only: Breakfast. Even one of those infamous roast beef sandwiches sounded pretty good about now. He did, however, decide against it and made his way to the hospital's cafeteria. He didn't need to eat in his room like a mere patient, did he? No, of course not. Besides, if he had settled for breakfast in his room, he might never have heard the topic of the day's conversation: What sort of weird blue tree-dwelling exotic animal bit Arthur Crutchfield? Oh, bother. Maybe he should just eat in his room.
It seems that Captain Jack had been a busy boy that Wednesday afternoon. He had talked with Arthur's doctor. He had talked with Arthur's nurses. He had talked to just about any one that would listen. He thought he'd better set the record straight about what he "saw" that night in the park. Of course, he didn't see a thing that night. He got there too late. But he did know enough to make up a story so convincing that even Arthur had to believe that he was there in the darkness and saw the whole thing. Arthur's doctor managed to say enough about Arthur's hand that the Captain knew he hadn't really been bitten. That had to be a clawing. No animal- known or otherwise- would bite like that. Had to be a claw mark. No need to share that opinion with the doctor, though. Let him continue to think that Arthur had been bitten. There was talk of rabies. Scary, unpleasant talk in those days. Captain Jack did his best to down play the risk, but it was only Arthur's fast healing that convinced the doctors that he would be alright. So it was that by Thursday everyone in the hospital wanted to know what Arthur Crutchfield had run into in Hyde Park two nights before. And Arthur still wasn't saying. After a suddenly hasty breakfast to avoid the stares and questions, Arthur did retire to his room to wait for the doctor. With luck, he could be out of there that day. With less luck, he decided he'd still be out of there that day.
By mid-morning, the doctor had stopped in and the bandages were changed. Everything looked good and, much to Arthur's relief, he would be allowed to go home that afternoon. No need to wait around, except maybe for lunch if he so desired. He did not. Arthur was fast becoming too famous for his own liking in the hospital. Everybody wanted to know what he knew- or at least looked like they did. Too many conversations were coming to a sudden halt at his arrival. Time for his departure. He could find lunch elsewhere. By noon, Arthur Crutchfield was out the door. The side door, in this case.
Fueled by a big breakfast and re-fueled by a lunch en route, Arthur Crutchfield made it home in time for tea. The last thing he needed. In spite of being wide awake all through the previous night, he had never felt more wide awake. It was a beautiful summer day, and even with the bandaged hand, he was feeling the picture of health. Or at least feeling as though he were the National Caffeine Council's poster boy for 1945. Why was he SO wide awake? He had no idea. With out the pressures of the hospital, and traveling alone on foot across town, Arthur didn't have to worry about his parents or Captain Jack for the moment. He was close to giddy. And close to worried about it. Why was he so wired? After a full night of star gazing, he knew he should be worn out. He wasn't. He knew he should be sleepy by now- ready for an afternoon nap if nothing else. He wasn't. What was going on here? By the time he reached his own street, he had it figured out: That electrical shock, or whatever it was, must have seriously upset his internal clock. Night for day, day for night. Except it was day time, and he wasn't sleeping. But that had to be it. What to do now? Arthur walked into the second-floor flat to find his parents having lunch. And shouldn't they have both been at work? There was still a war on, wasn't there?
Lunch was served at the Crutchfield household and Arthur, even though he had just eaten on his way over from the hospital, did indeed find room for a smackerel of something else to go with it. Victoria was still concerned over her only son, and how was he? Peter was strangely silent, preferring to sit back and watch. What (and how much) had Captain Jack said to him? Arthur assured his parents that, aside from the bandaged hand that was healing quite nicely, he was just fine and feeling great. No, he hadn't slept much, but he did feel good. Yes, he had spent the previous night out of doors, much like the evening before that. But he was fine, really. No need to worry. Arthur did agree to limit his work and travels for a few days, but he would need to let them know at the U.S.O. that he would be coming back just as soon as he could. For the last few years people would simply vanish without a trace in that part of the world. It would be nice for once to hear that some one was indeed coming back. The Americans would be glad for that small victory. Not that they weren't doing well- they were. Better than they could admit until sometime over the upcoming weekend.
Arthur spent the next few days in and out of the flat, walking and watching and occasionally returning to Charring Cross to have his hand looked after. It would have done better if he hadn't continued to hit it against things as he walked. And that hurt every time. He found the book would have to wait. Forget playing the piano- he couldn't even write now. All he could do was watch. Sometime during the following week, Peter Crutchfield managed to commandeer a big black Underwood typewriter for his son. He could at least peck at it with a couple of fingers on his left hand. Anything to keep him busy.
Late that Friday night in London was early Saturday morning in Japan. Sometime just after eight o'clock in Hiroshima that Saturday morning the world changed forever. The Americans unpacked their portable sun for all to see. The modern age was upon humanity in a very literal flash. It was Saturday morning in London by the time the news filtered through and even then, few could guess the immense importance of the event. No, it was not the end of civilization, just the end of the civilized. A few days later, a third sun rose in the heavens above another city in the Orient and Nagasaki was assured a place in the history books forever: Second place. The Nuclear Age was upon us all and everyone's pace had been quickened. The stage had been set for Arthur Crutchfield's entrance following the war that was about to end. The anxious world would be ready for both him and his book. Until they actually read it.

To Be Continued...
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Copyright 1996,2010 Chip Haynes

(Man, that was a long chapter!)

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